Yesterday, 11 February, was observed as the World Day of the Sick.
On its 32nd commemoration, Pope Francis emphasized in his 2024 message the significance of communal efforts to attain good health: a “therapeutic covenant” of “healing the sick (through) healing relationships.”
The importance of his message resonates for Filipinos who have to attain good health and wellness despite a public and private healthcare system that operates in far from optimum conditions.
Though priding ourselves to be centered on our families, many Filipinos singlehandedly cope with health challenges brought about by disease, age, or abuse of illegal substances because they are abandoned by their families and communities.
Even among the wealthy, the elderly or bedridden are abused by relatives and caregivers, with only a few able to voice out their suffering because they are rarely listened to in the daily rhythms that are hastened but also made more isolating by today’s technology and consumerism.
The popularity of folk remedies and online scams claiming dubious, untested health benefits is symptomatic that health remains a top priority of Filipinos, who seek alternatives to a healthcare system that is beyond their means or do not view their predicament with sympathy.
As alienating and even traumatic as families and communities who are blind or even indifferent to the plight of the sick is the public healthcare system.
The Philippines had one of the harshest and longest community lockdowns at the height of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic. For the masses without reserves of resources to fall back on during the sudden, unforeseen vacuum created by joblessness and work furloughs, as well as the rising cost of food and educational expenses due to the shift to virtual mode, the “cure” of social isolation was more dreaded than the ravages from Covid-19.
Omnipresent and unremitting, the structural flaws and gaps of the healthcare system became emphasized by a virus that exposed our vulnerabilities, from bureaucracies that distrusted people would do the right thing and follow what is mandated for the good of all to citizens that distrusted their elected and appointed leaders would do the right thing and put the welfare of all as the greatest good.
It is not surprising that frequent mentions of “healthcare” is covered up and obscured by a scaffolding of prohibitions imposed on the public and distrust of authorities who have anything but people’s health in their hearts and minds.
Yet, in the midst of this miasma, Pope Francis reiterates that our connections is our antidote for our ailments of the body and the soul.
“Our lives, reflecting in the image of the Trinity, are meant to attain fulfilment through a network of relationships, friendships and love, both given and received,” says the Pope in an article uploaded on vaticannews.va. “We were created to be together, not alone.”
If illness brings insecurity and vulnerability, Pope Francis reminds that it is the “relational aspect of humanity” that heals and saves.
He reminds that the “fundamental right to health and access to healthcare” should not be reduced to the “provision of services,” which wounds the person and scars his or her dignity.
Respect for the rights of the sick should not be afforded only by the wealthy who can afford privacy in hospitals and treatment rooms, as well as consultants, specialists, and personal caregivers to serve as proxy nurses.
More challenging is excising the stigma of judgment and prejudice cast by our society, stingy in doling out compassion for persons living with human immunodeficiency virus or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, as well as women who seek illegal abortive procedures and need emergency medical assistance to save their life.
“The sick, the vulnerable, and the poor are at the heart of the Church,” reiterates Pope Francis. “They must also be at the heart of our human concern and pastoral attention.”