FROM CHILDREN’S toys and the clothes we wear, to the food we eat and the air we breathe — even what seem to be benign can harm us. Indeed, the 16th century German-Swiss alchemist and physician Paracelsus had exclaimed, “All substances are poisons, there is none which is not a poison. The right dose differentiates a poison and a remedy.”
Poisoning is a global problem, and as our world becomes more complex, the risk of poisoning has increased. Yet it is highly likely that poisoning cases are underdiagnosed, partly because we know so little about the effects of small doses of chemicals during the development of our bodies. Recall that it was only three decades ago that we realized the hazards posed by lead, which had been a popular ingredient in paint and other everyday objects. By then generations had been exposed to the substance, which in toxic levels can cause retarded mental growth in children and can mimic intestinal parasitism (abdominal colic and anemia).
BENJAMIN DE Leon, who once headed the Commission on Population (Popcom) in the 1970s and is now president of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, points to the irony of the country’s population policy going haywire during the term of two female presidents: Corazon Aquino and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
DATU PAGLAS, MAGUINDANAO — Prayers echo from the minaret of a mosque through a vast banana plantation. Owned by a company called La Frutera, the 1,000-hectare land used to be a “killing field.” At the time, men in the area wound up either as members of secessionist groups or in the middle of a “rido” or clan war.
UBAY, BOHOL — Antonia Quirino sits with a dazed look on top of the stairs of her bamboo house amid a large swath of cornfield. She speaks laconically, as if every word is a labor. Filth surrounds her; debris of past meals remain on the dirty kitchen and table, the clotheslines display tiny clothes too grimy and stained to be considered ready for wear. Nearby, a few of her children sleep the day away.
FRAIL BUT feisty still at 95, the diminutive doctora is proof positive of her own prescription for longevity: “Leave the dining table a little less full, a little hungry, and you will live longer.”
The black bouffant wig nods on her tiny, spare frame as she ticks off a simple diet mostly of fish and vegetables with little rice, plus a fondness for cheese. Yet there is more to this admittedly “lazy eater” who eats, she says, “because it’s there.”
Fe del Mundo, doyenne of Filipino doctors, is a woman of many firsts, whose many accomplishments have changed the lives of millions of people.
MAGSAYSAY, SEVILLA, BOHOL — Our security escort holding the rusty M-16 rifle grunted as the old, rickety ambulance we were riding leaped a few inches from the road. But he quickly regained his composure, and resumed his hawk-like position, his eyes darting, regarding the trees as though they were enemies.
THERE ARE about four television sets in Tinoc, a remote town in Ifugao Province at the eastern foot of Mt. Pulag. The TVs are powered by solar panels. But there is no TV or even radio signals in the area. The TV sets are used in conjunction with DVD players.
One would think that Tinoc would have a long list of wants and needs. But last December 1 saw the inauguration of a local law that is expected to change profoundly the lives of the people of Tinoc and the rest of the province: the Ifugao Reproductive Health Code.
SO THINGS haven’t quite turned out as planned for Philippine generic-drug manufacturers and distributors. In fact, says Janet Estrañero, sales and marketing vice president of Pacific Pharmaceutical Generics that is the exclusive distributor of DLI Generics products, it’s all been a big disappointment.
“(The situation) is very, very far from what we expected it to be 18 years after the enactment of the generics law,” she says.
AMONG ALBERTO Romualdez Jr.’s saddest experiences as a physician, one that he says he continues to encounter, involves his regular trips to the drugstore. “You cannot miss this scene,” shares Romualdez, who was the health secretary during the brief presidency of Joseph Estrada. “Somebody with a prescription, say for antibiotics for one week, comes up to the sales clerk and pleads, ‘This is the only money I have. Is it possible to buy just one or two tablets or whatever this amount can afford?'”
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