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Gloria Arroyo, former champion of medical tourism

November 22, 2011 6:08pm

When she was President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave the medical tourism industry her full backing and invited foreigners to come to the Philippines for health and wellness services with the warm touch of Filipino hospitality.

Today, Mrs. Arroyo is waging wars in courts and in the news media so she can be allowed to travel to several countries to seek medical care she claims cannot be had even at St. Luke's Medical Center in Taguig -- one among a few Philippine hospitals with international accreditation -- where she is confined and held under court-approved hospital arrest.

Arroyo approved the 2004-2010 Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, which included the promotion of medical services among her administration's strategic priorities. She signed Executive Order 372 in October 2004 to provide the means for investors to set up medical tourism operations.

Arroyo also pushed for and signed into law the National Tourism Policy Act of 2009, which revamped the tourism policy infrastructure and still included medical tourism as a priority.

She also graced the inauguration of various modern medical facilities, including St. Luke's and a wellness center in Subic, and touted the country as a medical tourism destination.

She now claims that the medical expertise she needs for her endocrinal, orthopedic, and neurological conditions are absent in the medical tourism sector she worked so hard to boost during the administration.

Elena Bautista-Horn, chief of staff and spokesperson of the Pampanga Representative, said Arroyo's aides had asked Dr. Leo Olarte, an orthopedic surgeon, if he had done a tetracycline bone biopsy before and according to her, Olarte had not.

Bautista-Horn said the Arroyo family prefers to get a specialist with prior experience in the particular type of bone biopsy they are seeking for the former President.

GMA News’ Ruth Cabal interviewed Dr. Leo Olarte, a Governor of the Philippine Medical Association’s Metro Manila Chapter, for the newscast State of the Nation with Jessico Soho.

“Meron tayong kumpletong, sapat na mga espesyalista dito. In fact tayo nga ay nagpo-promote ng medical tourism at marami tayong pasyente abroad na pumupunta dito sa ating bayan na nagpapagamot," Dr. Olarte said.

“Hindi po risky ang bone biopsy. That is a minor procedure na ginagawa. Mga 30 minutes lang po ‘yan," added Olarte.

GMA News was able to obtain a copy of the medical abstract and other documents Arroyo’s lawyers submitted to the Supreme Court.

Olarte examined the scans of the cervical spine of Mrs. Arroyo and said the recent surgeries on the former president were successful. He also said the medical abstract shows Arroyo is recovering well from the surgeries done at St. Luke's.

St. Luke's Medical Center has two hospitals-- one in Quezon City and a new one in Taguig. It is one of only four medical institutions in the country accredited by the Joint Commission International, which accredits hospitals in the United States and worldwide. The other three are Makati Medical Center, The Medical City, and the Chong Hua Hospital in Cebu City.

When Mrs. Arroyo tried but failed to leave the country last week to purportedly seek expert medical care, her camp said that Arroyo had an appointment for a “needle or open biopsy" at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore.

Medical tourism is a multi-billion peso industry and business tycoon Manuel V. Pangilinan knows this all too well. Through his flagship local holding firm, Metro Pacific Investments Corp. (MPIC), Pangilinan has committed billions of pesos to create a nationwide network of at least 15 medical centers.

MPIC now has six leading local hospitals, including Asian Hospital Inc., where Mrs. Arroyo was confined in July 2009 for some medical procedures.

To acquire 57 percent control of Asian Hospital, MPIC committed to shell out P1.456 billion. Pangilinan and MPIC are looking for nine more medical centers to modernize all over the country. - HS, GMA News
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