Sunday, 25 December 2011


Mothers queuing for government goodies

Caring for our Senior Citizens

NEXT APRIL, when I go home to Manila for my annual work leave, I will see to it that I obtain that ID card for Senior Citizens from our baranggay (village council).

Just like the all-too-ordinary money lining your wallet alongside worn-out ATM and over-worked debit cards, the SC ID is too important for every elderly not to be carrying around with them.

Under the Senior Citizens Act (Republic Act (RA) 9257, the 4.6 million or so Senior Citizens (they are those aged 60 and above), enjoy 20 per cent discount on all goods and services, regardless of the amount.

These include transport (bus, jeepney and light rail train (LRT)), movie houses, eateries and restaurants, amusement parks and recreation centers. And the most important of all, drug stores, health care establishments and funeral parlors.

Government health facilities give them free medical and dental service, which include x-rays, computerized tomography scans and blood tests. In private health facilities, fees to these services, including doctor’s professional fees, are reduced by 20 percent.

SCs also enjoy discounts on basic items from canned sardines and tuna, to milk products and sugar, and a host of other foodstuff.

Turning 64 next April, I know that ID card would help me buy at discounted (20 per cent) prices from Mercury Drug and other outlets all the maintenance drugs, medicines and health-food supplements that my ageing body would need for the next 50 years. Well, assuming that I walk past my 100th birthday in year 2048.

Last May, when I tried to buy some drugs from Mercury, telling the good-looking sale staff-pharmacist that I am a Senior Citizen (SC), she just looked hard at my face, shaking her head, truly unbelieving.

But then, she asked me to produce a Senior Citizen’s ID, which I did not have. I thought that she thought I was just trying to pull her leg. Well, to tell you the truth, I had my purpose: I wanted to know just how convincing my look was for a SC. And she did not buy it.

Anyway, I paid the drugs at the usual outrageous price.

A fruit vendor at a public market in Mindanao awaits buyers of her goods… for her, retirement is an elusive commodity.
Thousands of overseas Mambulaoan workers like you and those who are not would one day turn 60, the time when they begin this inevitable journey to retirement.

It could be bumpy for many and pleasant for the lucky ones as they head towards the twilight years, carrying with them all sort of ailments, illnesses and diseases, bad breath and all, and other health anomalies that afflict the elderly.

Any one of these is enough to slow your system down thus, affecting your earning capacity in more ways than one.

How many of you would be as productive as you are now once you reach that age? Would you still be healthy enough to keep working and sending money home, assuming that you are able to convince your employers to keep you in their employ?

One simple guess I could make is that you would either be feeling some pain here in there, or suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes.

You could also be suffering from certain types of debilitating arthritis or bone joint-grinding gout; or feeling unusual uneasiness caused by a developing hernia or anemia. You could be having an ulcer or carrying bad liver, pancreas or kidneys as a result of too much alcohol in your body.

Or that you’re beginning to experience hearing difficulty. But the worst that you could get is a heart attack or stroke, which could render you paralyzed, slow you down, or keep you grounded.

In other words, the projected monthly income from your job is no more.

Many OFWs who made it good would always opt for an early retirement to enjoy the fruits of their labor with their families.

And as always, they would go into some business ventures that would keep them busy while trying to forget they are about to roll into their golden years.

Being conscious they have aged in life considerably but without becoming sweet just like sparkling wine in an oak barrel could have lingering effects in their subconscious, which could be distressing.

But just the same, being in this stage of their life would always cause them to worry about one thing: their health.

Long time ago, a doctor I met in Manila in the course of covering an international health convention on diabetes had told me: As professionals in their late 30s improved their incomes, they tend to change lifestyles and eating habits.

This could easily be seen in the clothes they wore, in the type of restaurants they went to and in the preference for food they ate and drinks they ordered.

It is the kind of foods they ate – usually greasy, high-protein and salty dishes and those high in uric acid content – and lack of regular exercise that would give them health troubles later.

I myself had fallen victim into this good-food-no-exercise syndrome, enjoying red meat (steak, most of the time), sea foods and greasy dishes served in Malaysian and Chinese restaurants here in Port Moresby.

I also had my share of alcohol that had become a costly weekend indulgence.

When I turned 52 11 years ago and was already having problems with my blood pressure, my personal doctor “ordered” me to ship out to Manila as soon as possible for an executive checkup.

It was a must that I knew what was wrong with my system.

The years of abuse I inflicted on my body – too much beer and hard drinks and unhealthy diet – readily showed in laboratory tests the conclusion that my doctor here in Port Moresby had already told me beforehand: I was high in cholesterol that triggered high blood pressure and I was high in uric acid that would give me either arthritis or gout sooner or later. I was also on the way to having certain prostate problem unless I ate healthy meals.

With all these, I was forced to stay away from foods heavy with grease and had become very selective of the meals that I ate at home and in restaurants; I avoided like plague any dish that are high in protein like beans and mungo, and those that had to do with the ocean – prawns, crabs, mackerel and its family species, squids, clams, fish belly – and meats like cattle and pig entrails.

The doctor, however, had recommended certain fish species that I could safely eat, provided they were not cooked with cooking oil.

And to deal with my BP, I had to take two types of prescription maintenance drugs – Renetic and Norvasc -- which are both expensive.

But after only a year of trying to tame my blood pressure with these two drugs, I got fed up. I abandoned them and shifted to natural remedy.

Learning of my BP problem, my mother, then 73, suggested that I try drinking a concoction of ORGANIC apple cider vinegar (ACV) and honey mixed in a glass of warm water, to be taken at least twice a day after meals.

Mom said that a good friend of hers had a much-worse hypertension problem because it remained abnormally high despite the prescription drugs she was into.

However, the ACV-honey concoction, which replaced the prescription drugs, has brought her friend’s blood pressure to normal level.

I’ve been drug-free for 10 years now, having dropped Renetic and Norvasc for good, and taking instead my ACV-honey concoction to deal my hypertension.

For some 10 years now, I have been drinking it twice a day – one after lunch and one after dinner.

After a time, I added two new elements into my organic ACV drink – tea brew from Taheebo and cinnamon bark. Instead of just plain warm water, I mixed three spoonful of ACV and two spoonful of honey into a glass of warm tea brewed from Taheebo and cinnamon bark.

Imported from Brazil, the Taheebo bark tea has been used by the natives for over a thousand of years to cure their ailments.

Taheebo tea advocates said it helps strengthen the immune system, helps resist chronic diseases, supports the normal blood function, helps prevent and cure ulcers, diabetes and rheumatism, among many others.

I discovered Taheebo tea through my sister Helen, who happened to be drinking the same stuff, which she said, was doing wonder to her health, particularly BP problem.  

I learned about cinnamon bark tea from a friend in Port Moresby who told me a story about a Chinese businessman here whose blood pressure never normalized despite the expensive maintenance drugs he was taking.

But after shifting to cinnamon bark tea in his desperate bid to tame his BP, the Chinese man’s BP problem was eventually solved.

With ACV-honey-Taheebo-cinnamon bark drink as my daily maintenance, I am able to tame my erratic BP and have avoided spending a good sum of money every month on maintenance drugs.

According to medical statistics, there are more than 10 million Filipinos suffering from hypertension, courtesy of unhealthy diet. And their number is increasing every year.

And high blood pressure is one of the top five causes of death among Filipinos.
Mrs Elvira P Hernandez is an ACV advocate

BUT OF COURSE, there will be those who would remain skeptical about the curative benefits of ACV, Taheebo and cinnamon bark tea, and therefore, would stick to their costly medication.

That’s why it was very timely that then President Gloria Arroyo issued an Executive Order setting a price ceiling on essential drugs that will take effect on August 15, 2009.

The EO covers at least six medicines that included the widely popular antihypertensive drug amlodipine, along with anti-infective, anti-cholesterol, anticancer and anti-diabetic drugs.

Drug makers have agreed to cut the prices of these drugs by at least 30 to 35 per cent.

Another batch of 14 other essential drugs has been exempted from the EO after their producers – at least five manufacturers – voluntarily cut their prices by a minimum of 50 per cent.

These 14 branded drugs included piperacillin + tazobactam, ciprofloxacin, azithromycin, metronidazole and co-amoxiclave, which are antibiotic drugs; and bleomycin, carboplatin, cisplatin, cyclophosphamide, cytarabine.

No doubt, these otherwise expensive drugs are those that deal with the ailments and diseases afflicting millions of Filipinos, especially the elderly, or the Senior Citizens.

Having gone into total retirement, this group is fully dependent on whatever lifetime savings they managed to stash and retirement benefits to pay for health maintenance.

The recent introduction of generic drugs has been a great help to ordinary consumers because they are sold at half the price.

Both government doctors and research groups have publicly declared generic drugs as equally effective and as potent as the branded ones since both have the same formulations,

A generic drug refers to one that is sold without a brand name but has the same formulation as its branded counterpart.

These no-name drugs are sold at generic drug stores operated by Generics Drugs Corp that have mushroomed in just a short time all over Metro Manila and in many towns across the country to cater to low-income groups.  
This woman, while selling shopping bags at the Quiapo 
market in Manila, ponders her prospect by nightfall.

The Mercury Drug chain, which has branches in almost all major towns nationwide, also carries a number of generic drugs in compliance with the Generic Drugs Act.

However, many of the store’s branches would remain silent about generic drugs unless you asked the sales staff for the generic counterpart of a particular brand.

In most cases, the store will tell you it doesn’t have it. But if you ask another branch, it would sell you one if you insisted on it.

Under the law, doctors are bound to prescribe both the branded item and its generics to the patients to give them a choice, especially when it concerned the cost. They should write the names of both the branded drugs and its generics in the prescription pad.

However, many doctors have insisted on prescribing only the branded drugs and one suspicion that has taken shaped of late is that they are earning commissions from drug companies owning the brand.

Before a drug store issues the prescribed drugs, the sales staff would refer to the doctor’s license number which is printed below the prescription document.

Then, the sale staff would key in the doctor’s name and his license number into the computer system for whatever purpose that has been established between the doctor and the drug company.

(Someone told me that the license number is stored in a data base at the drug company’s computer system – every time it is entered, the license holder earns some commission for prescribing the drug owned by the company.)

When a loved one, who recently underwent a heart procedure, had asked her doctor if she could buy the generic counterpart of her maintenance drug as it was cheaper, the doctor simply said: “Generic drugs have weaker formulations and therefore are not as effective as the ones I am prescribing …”

Branded drugs/medicines or their generics -- both are vital to people’s health. And the health of the Filipino – from infants to the aged – is wealth.

It is therefore the role of the government to help by seeing to it that drugs and medicines needed to keep the people’s well-being are always available, within reach and at affordable prices.

SO, WHY DO I still grumble here with this endless litany?

You see, the discount privilege for Senior Citizens who numbered  6.4 million in 2010 has hit a bump.

The 20 per cent discount they enjoy under the law has been drastically reduced by the imposition of the 12 percent Expanded Value Added Tax (EVAT).

Which means that SCs are left with only 8 percent benefit instead of the full 20 percent authorized by law.

That’s why we have to support another bill on Senior Citizens now pending in Senate which grants a 30 per cent discount for their exclusive use and enjoyment from all establishments which are covered by the EVAT.

Once the bill is approved, Senior Citizens will be entitled to the following:

 “A) The grant of 30-per cent discount for the exclusive use and enjoyment of senior citizens from all establishments which are covered by the Expanded Value Added Tax (EVAT) Law on the following:

“i. On the purchase of medicines, including the purchase of influenza and pneumococcal vaccines and other essential medical supplies; provided, that the DOH shall administer free vaccination against the influenza virus and pneumococcal disease for indigent senior citizen patients, subject to implementing guidelines to be issued by the Department of Health;

“ii. On the utilization of services in hotels and similar lodging establishments, restaurants and recreation centers;

“iii. On the professional fees of attending physicians in all private hospitals, medical facilities, outpatient clinic and home care services;

“iv. In actual transportation fare for domestic air transport services and sea shipping vessel and the like, based on the actual fare, advanced booking and similar discounted fare; and
“v. On funeral and burial services for the death of senior citizens.
Magbabalot ... his future is bleak

“B) The grant of a minimum of 20-percent discount for the exclusive use and enjoyment of senior citizens from all establishments not covered by the EVAT Law on the following:

“i. On medical and dental services, diagnostic and laboratory fees including medical supplies in all private hospitals and medical facilities, outpatient clinic and home care services, in accordance with the rules and regulations to be issued by the Department of Health in coordination with the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth);

“ii. On admission fees charged by theaters, cinema houses and concert halls, circuses, carnivals and other similar places of culture, leisure and amusement;

“iii. In actual fare for land transportation travel in public utility buses (PUB), public utility jeepneys (PUJ), taxi, Asian Utility Vehicles (AUVs), shuttle services and public railways including light rail transit (LRT), mass rail transit (MRT), Philippine National Railways (PNR) and any skyway transport.”

MEANWHILE, the army of our Senior Citizens grows in number as thousands of Filipinos, including a number from among Mambulaoans, turn 60 each day.

At this phase in their lives where they are speculating on what the remaining years have in store for them, they need special attention and care from the government.

The reason is simple. In their prime years, they had done their best raising their children and teaching them to become law-abiding and productive citizens. In their prime years, they had also been a part in nation-building.

A little help from the government to make their retirement smooth and less worrisome is all they ask.

After all, they remain an important part of the nation’s human resource.

APH’s maintenance health food supplements: (from left) Australian honey, organic Apple Cider Vinegar, Taheebo-cinnamon stick tea brew, Taheebo tea, and Alive Food Energizer. Front: Malaysian cinnamon sticks

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