Global Patients, Global Doctors: Lessons from the Health System of the Maritime Industry

Author(s): D. Lucero-Prisno1
Affiliation(s): 1IMHA, Tacloban City, Philippines
Keywords: Maritime health, health system, seafarers, global health
Background:

The maritime sector is a highly globalized industry with an international workforce of 1.5 million seafarers working on literally all waters of the world. As a risky profession (second only to commercial fishermen), seafarers are exposed to a multitude of occupational and health hazards. This equates to USD 135 million of compensation for personal injury from the P&I Clubs (insurance) every year, which is more than the claims for maritime pollution. As ships ply their routes, medical services all over the world are always at bay waiting for patient calls once needed. These highly organized services are specifically designed for the industry with medical services provided regardless of the nationality of neither the seafare nor the medical staff, the flag of the ship, nor the port of call.

Summary/Objectives:

To understand how health services are delivered and provided to the global seafarers. To understand the framework governing the scheme of health service provision beyond nationalities and borders. To deduce learning from this industry for other ‘global’ health systems. To assess the weaknesses, strengths and gaps of the maritime health system.

Results:

The workforce of maritime industry is composed of seafarers from different countries with a big percentage from East Asia and Eastern Europe. Filipinos comprise almost a third. These seafarers work on ships flagged under different countries with Liberia and Panama on top of the list. Globalization paved the way to this scheme despite real ownership in other countries. For every tour of duty of the seafarers, a medical examination is required in the home country of the seafarer. This screening identifies those who are fit to work. The countries where the ships are flagged accredit these clinics. Insurance companies support this screening to avoid health claims from those who have existing health problems. These companies have a separate accreditation scheme of all the clinics where seafarers can go in case they are afflicted with a malady while on board or on contract. They can easily approach health services at different ports without too much financial worry. These clinics and hospitals make claims from the representatives of the shipping or insurance companies within the area. Despite the lack of international standards, the maritime industry is able to carry out its task of taking care of the health and welfare of its workers; though maybe not to a perfect degree. The International Maritime Health Association (IMHA) is the only international organization of health professionals who have direct contacts with seafarers. They lead the initiative of developing an international medical standard for the seafaring sector so that services and diagnosis will be similar throughout the world. WHO accredits four Collaborating Centres on health of seafarers based in Germany, Denmark, Ukraine and Poland. They are clustered under occupational health. WHO, ILO and the IMO have some collaboration in the area of health of seafarers. The industry observes ‘self-regulation’ and maintains certain standards without too much intervention from nation-states.

Lessons learned:

The health system of the maritime industry is an interesting model of a responsive and effective global health system beyond the consideration of the nationalities of neither the patients nor the health providers and without considering national borders. Though this study does not claim for it to be a perfect global health system, it has many characteristics that are worth emulating. Its well-organized structure allows easy access for its clients to quality health services. The major strength of the system is its strong health-financing scheme that is backed by a rich maritime industry. Quality and access are assured because of the good compensation given to the health providers. Keeping maritime workers healthy is imperative because they literally run 90% of the global trade.

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