By Dr. Rebecca Castillo, M.D.
The Department of Health (DOH), together with the European Union (EU) and the World Health Organization (WHO), recently held discussions on EU support to the Philippine health sector reform agenda, particularly key learning from two budget support programs implemented by the EU in the Philippines last June 3 at the Manila Hotel in Manila City.
Aside from the budget support programs, the event also focused on recommendations and action plans for the recently enacted Universal Healthcare (UHC) law, an act that aims to promote equal access to essential health services while protecting beneficiaries against financial risk that these services may entail.
EU consultant Dr. Giovanni Cascone led the presentation on the second phase of the Health Sector Policy Support Program and the Philippine Health Sector Reform Contract (PHRSC) evaluation—both budget support programs by the EU that have enabled the local health department to deliver better healthcare services to people in many parts of the country.
Among the numerous key learning from the implementation of these programs is the utilization of a demand-driven approach, which enabled PHRSC proponents to provide healthcare tailored to the needs of the population. Both programs also resulted in an increase in the number of Philippine National Health Insurance Programme beneficiaries from 62 percent in 2010 to 92 percent in 2018, the establishment of drug recovery clinics offering evidenced-based drug abuse treatments, and improved sexual and reproductive health care services for numerous beneficiaries in the last ten years.
“The last ten years have been fruitful for health reforms based on the evaluation,” Cascone said. “The programs enabled countless Filipinos to improve their overall health, especially women and children in far-flung areas of the country who need access to quality healthcare the most.”
DOH Undersecretary Dr. Mario Villaverde and WHO representative Dr. Gundo Weiler followed with discussions on recommendations related to the implementation of the UHC law in the Philippines.
These recommendations include increasing support for DOH and PhilHealth in terms of health financing, implementation of new policies, health management and governance, and prioritising the development of human resources for health, to name a few.
“The UHC act provides an actionable legal mandate for the integration of primary health care within the government health system and encourages sectoral reform cooperation and action on a wide range of health needs,” Weiler said.
Villaverde said that the three priorities of the UHC law should be the unification of the fragmented local healthcare system, financing and efficient use of resources, and crafting a regulatory framework that covers pricing, quality, and distribution of services. “By prioritizing these, it will enable us and our partner organizations to lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive UHC later on.”
WHO representative Dr. Albert Domingo said that aside from these, another priority should be the definition of roles of each organization involved in the UHC’s implementation.
“If we are able to define the rules and responsibilities by concretely assigning them to particular actors such as the province- and city-level systems, then we might be able to move things forward much more efficiently,” Domingo added.
Both the EU and WHO then pledged that they will remain committed to helping DOH fulfill its mandate of creating a more democratized healthcare system in the Philippines.