With over 2.2 million Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) toiling to provide for their family and help the country’s economy, everything that concerns them, especially their health, is of great importance. This is particularly true given the recent health crisis, when living a healthy lifestyle has become more important.
Importance of Health Problem Awareness to OFWs
As with everything, awareness is the first step in taking care of and improving something. This is particularly true when it comes to health. Knowing common possible health problems and their associated risks, especially for OFWs, allows them to know how to deal with the condition.
If OFWs can identify the best and most proper approaches that will boost their health and promote recovery and wellness, they can stay at work and support their families for a really long time without getting sick. Consequently, failure to know about them may result in poor health, or in worse cases, permanent disability or even death.
Common Health Problems Among OFWs: A Study
As the first step in living a healthy lifestyle, especially for the OFWs who are believed to be modern heroes in the Philippines, Dr. Veronica Esposop Ramirez, along with the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), conducted a study on the “Common Health Problems Among Overseas Filipino Workers [OFWs].”
The study investigated and identified the common health problems among 698 land-based OFWs in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East as part of the efforts to create better policy recommendations for disease prevention and healthcare services that will help protect their well-being.
8 Common Diseases OFWs Get While Working Abroad
According to their studies, OFW women tend to be plagued with reproductive health problems while OFW men mostly suffer from diseases related to cardiovascular, urinary, neurological, and immune systems. Thanks to their constant exposure to harmful substances, chronic fatigue, overwork, lack of rest and proper nutrition, unfamiliar weather conditions, and abuse by their employers, OFWs are of higher risk to contracting the following diseases while working abroad:
The most common cause of adult hospital admission and one of the most expensive conditions, pneumonia is among the common diseases that plagues OFWs. This is a disease caused by infection of the lungs, resulting in fluid buildup and respiratory problems. It’s generally caused by constant exposure to unclean surroundings, dust and debris, harmful substances, as well as with infectious agents or patients.
It’s a common disease among OFWs who work as nurses, physical therapists, domestic workers, and those who work in the cleaning industry.
2. Musculoskeletal disorders
Musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) refer to painful injuries or disorders involving the muscles, nerves, tendons, joints, cartilage, and spinal discs caused by long periods of improper alignment of the body, poor posture, or excessive strenuous activities.
Common OFW musculoskeletal problems include slip disks, fractures and joint problems.
Hepatitis is the inflammation of the liver. This is common among OFWs who work in hospitals where they are always in contact with infectious agents and items, and infected individuals. However, heavy alcohol use, toxins, medications, and some other medical conditions may also cause this.
To avoid it, OFWs must exercise caution and avoid cross-contamination. That means, hepatitis can be avoided by staying away from unhygienic work conditions and ensuring proper sanitary measures both in protective clothing or cleaning practices. They can also try leading a healthier lifestyle and avoiding excessive alcohol or drug use.
Hypertension or high blood pressure is a common condition among OFWs. When you have hypertension, your body forces your heart to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body for a long time. This causes the lower left heart chamber to thicken, increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, or sudden cardiac arrest.
Typically, OFWs get hypertension because of stress from work or lack of sleep. OFWs, particularly the domestic workers, stay up late resulting in not receiving enough rest. Some OFWs who work in offices end up with an extremely sedentary lifestyle, resulting in poor health and eventually, high blood pressure.
Typically, OFWs diagnosed with hypertension are kept on maintenance medication. They also need to make lifestyle changes, by switching out their high-calorie and high-fat food and drinks to low-fat food to keep their circulatory system healthy. In some cases when the condition is not too severe, lifestyle change is enough to mitigate the risks of hypertension.
Cancer is the world’s leading cause of death. It is a condition that occurs when some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts. Generally, it develops when the body’s normal control mechanism stops working. It means, when old cells grow out of control and form new, abnormal cells instead of dying, the extra cells may form a tumor. Some cancer types, however, do not form tumors, like leukemia.
OFWs who work as factory workers or in other related jobs have higher risk of developing cancer over time, thanks to their jobs which cause them to constantly get exposed to chemicals and other harmful substances. To somehow mitigate the risks, they can try wearing masks, gloves, and other protective gears to protect themselves from inhalation and direct contact.
Trauma or physical trauma refers to injuries resulting from sudden physical injury from impact, violence or accident. It is generally associated with physical wounds, broken bones or internal organ damage. caused by a strong force from outside of the body. It may either be blunt trauma caused by falls, road traffic crashes; crush injuries, assaults (punches, kicks) and burns or penetrating trauma caused by shooting, stabbing or falling onto a sharp object.
For OFWs, this usually means getting into accidents involving road traffic accidents or accidents at construction sites and factories.
7. Liver disease
There are many types of liver (hepatic) diseases. These diseases can either be caused by infections, inherited conditions, obesity, and misuse of alcohol, and it may consequently affect the way your entire body functions.
For OFWs, one of the most common causes of liver disease comes from their tendency to drink a lot of alcohol and consume chemical-rich food products while away from home. In fact, the same is true everytime OFWs come home to visit or for vacations. A few years of such abuse and not even the most careful person can escape the toll of such bad habits on the liver. To prevent this, it’s best for OFWs to drink moderately and avoid eating canned and packaged food all the time.
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Depression, otherwise known as major depressive disorder, is a common and serious medical illness that also affects OFWs. As a disease, it negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and even how you act, thanks to the feeling of sadness and a loss of interest associated with it. Some may think that depression is unreal, but the problems resulting from this disease can lead to emotional and physical problems. It’s a pretty serious condition, considering that depression does not discriminate about age, gender, or social status.
Fortunately, it is also treatable. One just has to identify the cause first so clear treatment plans can be created and implemented. Some of the known causes of depression include family history, illness and health issues, medication, drugs, and alcohol, and personality.
For OFWs, clinical depression may also set in when they’re constantly stressed and do not take time to relax or take a break from work. To avoid this and stay mentally healthy, it’s best to find a hobby, as well as have a support system away from home.
There are other diseases that plague OFWs, but according to this study, these eight are some of the most common diseases that affect our modern heroes while they struggle to support their families from abroad.
Factors that Cause OFWs to Ignore the Signs that they have Health Problems
Sometimes, in their quest for a better life, it is because they ignore the tell-tale signs of these diseases that they end up getting worse, or in worse cases, dead. You may think that it doesn’t make sense but according to the study, some of the reasons why Filipino migrant workers choose to ignore or neglect their health problems instead of seeking treatment include:
Lack of awareness of their health benefits
Distance between health service centers and their workplace
Fear of losing their job, and
Reliance on self-medication
They feel bad about taking time off or spending too much money taking care of their health that more often than not, they end up blowing away an even larger chunk of money that could have been a part of their savings for the family.
Sure, we can wait until the government manages to negotiate better working conditions for the OFWs. We can hope that they get free medical consultation, employee clinics, and first-aid kits in the workplace, but the truth is, it would take time before these OFW woes can be addressed.
Meanwhile, if you or any OFW you know experience signs and symptoms of any of these common occupational diseases, reporting it to the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) is the best way to address the problem and get immediate help. Being a PhilHealth member and having an active account will also help minimize expenses and provide discounts for medical treatment, but in cases when it doesn’t, there are other government agencies that can provide support, like the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).