Filipino Culture in Medicine
Written by Ellison Morgan
Edited by Shania Sheth and Jocelyn Wang
Whether we want to admit it or not, culture affects who we are. Culture is who we are. And in a lot of cases, cultures help determine our passions.
The Philippines is a group of about 7640 islands located between the South China Sea and the Philippine Sea. Of the 7640 islands, about 2,000 of them are inhabited with a population of roughly 150,000,000 people total. With such a large number of people, there are bound to be different aspects of the culture relating to healthcare. This article will explore a few of them.
In the Philippines, home remedies are often used, so much so that health care is thought of as more of an afterthought. Older generations are even more apprehensive of healthcare, waiting for circumstances to take a turn for the worst before even considering going to a hospital. Filipino healthcare workers tend to give the smallest doses possible of medications, this is because there is a limited amount of medicine in some areas as well as the belief that undergoing pain helps show virtue. Another reason that some Filipinos are apprehensive to take medication is because of their fear of addiction to the medicine.
Babaylans are core cultural figures in Filipino medicine. Babaylans are women (sometimes men) who can communicate with spirits, while also being able to heal and see the future. A Babaylan is often chosen because a supernatural event occurs in their life causing them to see the world differently (this event is called the sacred call) and develop a higher level of care for their local community. The main belief of Babalyans is “God is in all of us”. These figures are essential in Filipino culture especially in Filipino indigenous communities, because they are similar to Shamans in other cultures.
Before 2019 Filipino healthcare was not universal, the system was complicated and the process of receiving healthcare was very confusing. President Rodrigo Duterte introduced a law called UHC (universal healthcare). This act was put into place to hopefully allow Filipinos to have more access to affordable healthcare.
Speaking of UHC, here is an interview with my high schools’ librarian, Mrs. Ver. Mrs. Ver lived in the Philippines before UHC was enacted.
Ellison: “How long did you live in the Philippines?”
Ver: “I came here in 1996, so it's been almost 30 years.”
Ellison: “Do your views differ from other Filipinos when it comes to medicine?”
Ver: “I think so if I compare myself to others; Over there you have to show that you have money before you can be treated, so in some cases over there you may not be treated even in an emergency. It's also different because over here (referring to the United States) life insurance is less required.”
Ellison: “How has the change in the healthcare system from the Philippines to the US affected your life?”
Ver: “Very different, based on the fact that it's 3rd world so they're a bit behind on everything, so it takes them a long time to catch up, sometimes even years. Over here we have better equipment in hospitals so more things can be done.”
A huge influence on Filipino medicine is Jose Rizal. Jose Rizal was a Filipino doctor who helped influence the country forever. He started in ophthalmology but eventually became an advocate and figure for the country. Born in Calamba, Philippines, Jose was an advocate for the expansion of Filipino medicine. Rizal was also considered a leader in the Filipino independence movement, eventually leading him to be executed for his efforts by the Spanish. For this, many consider him a martyr. Rizal is also commemorated on the 1 PHP (Philippine Peso) for all he inspired within the country.
Filipino culture is rich in history and tradition, the elements mentioned here being just a few of many. It is important that we continue to learn about things that we have little to no exposure to in order to better care for our world.
“Cultural beliefs on disease causation in the Philippines: challenge and implications in genetic counseling.” NCBI, 16 July 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4159471/. Accessed 25 September 2022.
Enriquez, Virgilio. Babaylan Women as Guide to A Life of Justice and Peace, https://www.isiswomen.org/downloads/wia/wia-2006-2/02wia06_06GirlieA.pdf. Accessed 1 October 2022.
“Health Beliefs and Behaviors: Health Behaviors.” Geriatrics – Ethnogeriatrics, https://geriatrics.stanford.edu/ethnomed/filipino/fund/health_beliefs/health_behaviors.html. Accessed 28 September 2022.
“Jose Rizal | Biography, Education, Works, Full Name, & Facts.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jose-Rizal. Accessed 1 October 2022.
Umipig, Jana Lynne. “What is Babaylan? | Babaylan Studies.” Center for Babaylan Studies, https://www.centerforbabaylanstudies.org/history. Accessed 27 September 2022.