Saying they are being neglected, 449 Hansenite patients at Jose Rodriguez Memorial Hospital (JRMH), also known as Tala Leprosarium, on Wednesday cried for help and urged Health Secretary Janette Garin to increase their monthly cash ration, provide them more medicines and beef up their food packages during Christmas and New Year.
More than 200 lepers, young and old, were expecting to hold a dialogue with officials of the Department of Health to ventilate their complaints.
They waited in a big room at Fr. Hofstee Building, still located in Tala district, less than a kilometer away from JRMH.
To their dismay, at 4 p.m not one from the Health department, not even a representative of Garin, surfaced.
Garin was scheduled to hold the dialogue at 1 p.m.
Not even officials of JRMH came to face the lepers, who are mostly senior citizens.
Juanito Torres, president of Alyansa ng mga Pasyente sa Tala (Ampat), presented a 12-point petition.
Ampat is the umbrella organization of four groups of patients–Tala Hansenites Council (Tahac), Leprosarium Patients Solidarity (Lepers), Grupo ng Rehistradong Pasyente (Grupo) and Unyon ng Manggagawang Pangkalusugan (UMP).
Among the demands raised by Ampat were increase of the cash ration from P75 to P150 per day; medical attention when a leper is at the Out-Patient Department; increase of monthly salary of 63 patient assistants from P450 to P600; priority to patient assistants in regularization of employment; increase of supply of medicines; yearly ration of bed sheets, pillows, towels and bed foams; return of 40 kilowatt-hour power subsidy; grant of water subsidy; return of Noche Buena and Media Noche packages during Christmas and New Year and return of extra ration of food during celebrations of Tala Foundation and Leprosy Week; separate funding for general care and custodial care; and grant distribution of the lots where their houses are standing.
The demands were enumerated in Ampat’s letter to Garin that was received last May 11.
The patients said they have been experiencing discrimination from Dr. Edgardo Javillonar, medical director of JRMH.
Torres said Javillonar, in 2004, issued a memorandum stopping the food ration to charity patients allegedly to avoid a budget deficit.
Meanwhile, the group Bantay Kalusugan Coalition joined the protesting lepers also on Wednesday and picketed the venue where the dialogue between the Hansenite patients and Health officials was supposed to be held.
Manuel Ferrer, spokesman for Bantay Kalusugan, said they are protesting the gradual phase-out of Tala Leprosarium with the implementation of Republic Act 9420, which converted the 200 beds of the 2,000-bed hospital to general care.
The conversion will no longer make laboratory tests free.
Ferrer said since the implementation of the new law, patients were forced into self-medication because the OPD charges P60, while the emergency room charges P160. If the patient is confined, the hospital charges P50 per hour of stay. Taking of blood pressure costs P10. If a patient occupies a bed in charity room, he is charged P300 per day.