Returning doctors injecting fresh take on annual RP health missions (First of Two Parts)

FOR over 20 years, surgeon Domingo Alvear eludes the chilly American winter and warms up in motherland Philippines by joining other doctors for weeks-long medical missions.

This is the season –December to February– for these mostly US-originated medical, surgical, or dental missions to the Philippines.

But Alvear’s experience with annual health missions in poor communities here is chilling his desires for improved health service delivery.

Since they’re one-shot services, these missions can only do so much, says Alvear, founding president of the World Surgical Foundation Inc.

A recent surgical missions summit-of-sorts among these doctors may change all these.

The doctors, most of who, Alvear said, are at the tail-end of their medical careers, agreed to transform their usual health missions into sustained community health interventions.

Here’s what they want: less politics during missions, less stringent regulations governing medical practice and the entry of equipment, and more involvement from Philippine partners.

Alvear says this wish-list is urgent also because “age is getting to me” and other “veterans” in these health missions.

“Take advantage of us when we are still healthy. If not, it’s over,” he told participants of an impromptu summit held at the sidelines of an annual convention of the Philippine College of Surgeons. 


SOME politicians like San Isidro, Nueva Ecija mayor Sonia Lorenzo acknowledges the concerns raised by Alvear’s group. While not pointing out her administration, Lorenzo admits some of these health missions have been “politically exploited”.

Even former Southern Leyte governor Rosette Lerias cited that some medical mission doctors were forced “to keep their medicines in a hotel because they simply mistrust local politicians”.

Lerias didn’t say if that occurred during her time as governor.

Other doctors complained of red tape in processing the entry of medical equipment they’re bringing in. Still others say the same is experienced when processing their licenses for mission doctors to practice their professions during these visits.

Dr. Juan Montero, a 2003 awardee of the American College of Surgeons for volunteering, complained about taxing the recipient of donations.

Taxing recipients of donations is a burden since the US government already taxes donors of these medical equipment, Montero said.

Worse, he says, district hospitals receiving these donations “see their budgets deducted to represent donees’ taxes for the donations received”.

(To be continued)