By Gelyka Ruth Dumaraos
The year 2019 saw a series of highs and lows for Philippine public health. The most encouraging development was the willful passage of the Universal Healthcare Law (UHC), which may be considered as last year’s landmark law for public health. Said to be a culmination of all health reforms and measures, the UHC law, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte, entitles all Filipino citizens health care coverage and prescribes complementary reforms in the health care system.
The law provides all Filipino citizens with health care coverage, and this includes free consultations, lab tests and diagnostic services and as covered by PhilHealth.
However, the euphoria over the passage of the UHC law was short-lived, and the latter part of the year saw a veil of uncertainty in its effective implementation. Adding to the dampened enthusiasm was the measles outbreak that hit parts of the country and killed over 600 Filipinos. Another was the alarming confirmed reemergence of polio—a crippling disease which had long been eradicated in the country. The last case of polio has been listed in 1993, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Reports revealed that the first confirmed polio case was in a three-year-old girl in Lanao del Sur and was followed by a five-year-old boy in Laguna. The polio virus has also been found in places in Manila such as Tondo’s slum communities. As of press time, there have been eight confirmed polio cases in the country.
What makes this alarming is the fact that these can be prevented through vaccines, a measure which has been overlooked, hence the reemergence and outbreaks.
The DOH revealed late last year that vaccinations dropped for the past years, following the dengue vaccine issue prompting mothers and guardians to skip vaccinating out of fear of complications.
Amidst the health challenges the DOH has faced in 2019, the health chief stresses that the most important lesson the year has taught in terms of the setbacks was that—vaccination is vital.
“There are about 12 vaccine preventable diseases and if we are able to prevent and protect our children from developing these vaccine-preventable disease—it would really mean so much in terms of avoiding or escalating costs,” he says, adding that the old adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ still holds true.
Also, among last year’s health challenges were the whopping 350,000 dengue cases— 1,300 of which were fatal, and the continuous increase of people living with HIV (PLHIV) amidst heightened awareness campaigns.
While 2019 has been filled with highs and lows in public health, Sec. Duque still looks forward to a better year among Filipinos, with an effective implementation of UHC. However, the implementation of UHC will be rolled out in stages. According to Sec. Duque, only around 33 pilot areas will be covered by the law for this year. He underscores that the implementation will include the various components of the law—service delivery, health regulation, healthcare financing governance, performance accountability and local health systems development. He adds that there is a need to launch capacity-building in different provinces to serve as points of convergence and integration.
Although DOH is said to be strategically ready for 2020, the proposed PhP 88 billion budget will not be enough to cover the entire cost of healthcare in the country, particularly in covering indigent Filipino families.
With this, Sec. Duque also stresses that effective UHC implementation hinges on a strong relationship between the government and the private sector.
“The UHC Act provides more opportunities for the private sector to expand their market reach, but at the same time, we challenge their creativity in development high-value enhancing solutions,” the DOH chief exhorts the public during a health leadership forum in Taguig City.
Sec. Duque highlights how shifting investments to primary care is expected with PhilHealth paying for the comprehensive primary care benefit package.
“The direction to contract health care provider networks raise the need for solutions or technologies that can help providers successfully achieve financial, clinical and management integration,” he says.
Sec. Duque said that opportunity for health care business is to explore other businesses such as health technology.
The institutionalization of the health technology assessment process is the driver of cost-effect jobs and services; and the process for public funding is expected to foster innovation and improve market competitiveness.
The health chief underscores that if health leaders, the academe, and health care implementers— both local government leaders and officials, and other stakeholders from various sectors would deliberately intersect, the results of this law will be evident in the long run.
The year 2020 will be an exciting year for the Philippine public health as it shall see the first year of implementation of UHC. Sec. Duque hopes that the agency will roll out the implementation seamlessly, with the help of enough funding, and see the results that can eventually lead to its nationwide implementation.
“We will be able to do what is necessary to realize the goals and objectives of the Universal Health Care. We hope that we continue to win over the trust and confidence of our people,” he concludes with an optimistic note.