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Stay in HK for medical treatment instead of going home, say ex-patients

26 November 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 

All the speakers said HK people should take advantage of the city's excellent public health care system

Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong should not be afraid to go for health checkups at the city’s public hospitals which are virtually free so that any health problems they have can be treated before these become life-threatening.

Resource persons in the weekly online show, The SUN Interviews Live, hosted by editor Daisy Mandap, unequivocally said OFWs should take advantage of the top quality public health system that Hong Kong offers.

The guests were former labor attaché Bernie Julve, who had a live liver transplant at Queen Mary Hospital in December 2003 during his term in Hong Kong; Edwina Antonio, executive director of Bethune House Migrant Women’s Refuge, and domestic helper Lyn, a survivor of cancer of the uterus.

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Mandap said the topic was timely, as Hong Kong is in the grip of its fourth wave of coronavirus contagion, and being health conscious is the best way to ward off infections.

She said the best way to ensure good health is to seek medical help immediately if one  experiences something unusual. For Filipino migrant workers, they should not worry about finding out that they are sick, or telling their employers about their need to see a doctor, because they also need to remain healthy to be able to do their jobs well.

It is also good to know that Hong Kong is probably one of the best places to get sick in, as one could get excellent treatment here at hardly any cost.

Julve, ex-liver transplant patient,  now counts mountain climbing among his hobbies

Julve, who has retired from public service and is in Hong Kong to see family and friends, said in his time OFWs strongly believed local medical services were bad and that they’d only be used as guinea pigs (“pagpraktisan lang) by doctors.

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The workers also worried they wouldn’t be able to bear the high cost of treatment in Hong Kong hospitals because of their status, but he proved them wrong.

Julve related his experience as a recipient of live liver transplant in Hong Kong.

One day, he collapsed in his office at Polo and was rushed to the clinic of the Consulate’s doctor in Causeway Bay. He continued to feel unwell after being revived and was given medicines. But when his pain persisted, he was examined thoroughly and was told: “Mr Julve, it’s not your heart; it’s your liver, it is dying.”

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That evening he was moved to St Paul’s Hospital where he stayed for about two weeks. But, after it was learned that he needed surgery, he was moved to Queen Mary Hospital, where his doctor said he should have a live liver transplant in 72 hours or he won’t survive.

He said that at time, his surgery would have cost Php4 million in Manila, but because he had HK ID, he was not charged anything for it. He said he paid just $10 each for three month’s supply of five types of medicines. He was taken again to the hospital three weeks later after his wound bled due to infection, and again, hardly paid anything.

Julve commended Hong Kong’s hospital system, which he said continued to monitor his condition even after he had moved to his new posting in Vancouver BC. Such long distance after-care was coordinated with Vancouver Hospital, Julve said.

Antonio has taken care of dozens of ailing migrant women at Bethune House

Antonio, who takes care of three cancer patients at Bethune House, said her wards were getting good care from Hong Kong's public hospital for almost nothing, when such treatment would have cost a fortune in the Philippines.

She said there are OFWs who believe they won’t get the care they need here in Hong Kong or they’d wait too long, so they just decide to go home. Sometimes they also fear that local doctors are not good and would experiment on the helpers.   

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Meron ganoong mga kababayan na instead na dito magpapagamot, sa Pilipinas ang reason nila dahil nandoon ang pamilya nila at saka, iyon nga, baka kung ano ang mangyari sa kanila,” she said.

(We have fellow Filipinos who choose to go home to the Philippines instead of getting treated here because their family is there, and they worry that something bad might happen to them here).

 Antonio said it is important that the patients get support from their employers.

 Hindi nila naiisip na kapag may Hong Kong ID ka kasi, may access ka sa public health. Kapag naterminate ka kasi, wala kang access sa public health. Kung ang employer naman supportive sa pagpapaopera mo, dito na ang piliin mo,” Antonio said.

 

She said a cancer patient pays nothing if she undergoes surgery here. For those who need to undergo chemotherapy, each session costs only about $98, compared with Manila where it is around Php40,000 on the low range.

In the Philippines, it is the costs that kill a patient, she said.

That is why Bethune House, the refuge of distressed workers, would ask the employers not to terminate the workers so they could avail of free treatment and medicines, she said.

Lyn during chemo: She's all praises for the treatment and care that she got from medical staff in HK

The third guest, cancer survivor Lyn, said she chose to be treated in Hong Kong for her cancer of the uterus because she did not want to trouble her family with the cost.

Siyempre, pinili ko rito kasi naging praktikal ako. Kasi pag doon ako, pati pamilya ko mahihirapan, e mahirap din naman ang buhay doon. At least, pag dito libre lahat ang gamutan,” Lyn said.

(Of course, I chose to be more practical and get treated here. If I had it in the Philippines, my family would also be burdened because life is difficult out there. At least here, you don’t pay anything to get treated).

She said she received 6 cycles of chemotherapy, 33 days of radiotherapy and three session of a third kind of therapy, all free of charge. Her MRI, ultrasound and CTscan were free. The only thing she paid for was registration.

Antonio said the most common health problems of patients she is taking care of are cancer and stroke. They stay in the shelter under an arrangement with the employers who want to keep them but want the helper to recuperate in the shelter.

Lyn herself was lucky because her employer has retained her services, despite the frequent consultations and treatments. When she had to stay in the hospital for two months for treatments, her employer paid her salary in full.

She is also all praises for the medical team at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital who looked after her and even cheered her up when she’d cry in frustration because nobody was by her bedside to comfort her.

Her advice to her fellow domestic workers is not to brush aside symptoms, as she did, when she had menstrual spotting for six months. That was the reason, she believes, why her cancer was found at a rather advanced stage.

She also said they should not be afraid of informing their employers because ultimately, their being able to remain in Hong Kong and get quality health care without spending a fortune, depends a lot on their employer’s support.

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