A disjointed and stressed health system

"We must remember the lessons of this crisis and choose our next leaders wisely."


I felt a restrained sense of ire in the voices of the speakers in last Friday’s most recent virtual town hall discussion of think tank Stratbase ADR Institute.  Various representatives of health stakeholders, seemingly upset with this regime, presented their perspectives and recommendations on what the next administration should do to solve what even the Department of Health admits is a fragmented health system.

What emerged was a unanimous call to prioritize the full implementation of the comprehensive provisions of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act which Prof. Dindo Manhit, Stratbase ADRi’s President so appropriately kicked off in his opening remarks.

Prof. Manhit stated that the UHC Act, enacted to address decades of problems in the Philippine healthcare system, must be prioritized together with other health laws such as the National Integrated Cancer Control Act and for the government to provide adequate resources to effectively implement.

He called for proactive collaboration in the decision-making process through a whole-of-society approach and emphasized that there must be accountability in healthcare delivery.

Prof. Manhit points out that, “We must demand complete visibility and reckoning of performance. Disruptions brought by the pandemic is a tried excuse that we should no longer tolerate. We need responsive performance and good governance.”

“Filipinos do not need political rhetoric. We will not be swayed by words anymore,” Prof. Manhit said.

I’ll share with you some notable points gathered from the powerhouse group of health stakeholders that aired their passionate views and grounded recommendations worthy of being adopted by our next set policy leaders.

Dr. Leni Jara, Executive Director of the Council for Health and Development, lamented on how the crisis has been most hard on the marginalized sector and the “dismal” health situation. One of her points raised was that at the rate vaccination is going, it may take nine months more before we reach 70 percent of the population -- even as experts now say this is not enough because of the Delta variant.

Former Health Secretary and current Board Member of Health Justice, Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, said that there must be public-private partnerships with civil society organizations, and the community particularly in the far-flung areas. Four issues that he said are being neglected are: Rising teenage pregnancy, stunting of children below 12 years old, tuberculosis (we now rank fifth in the world), and the uncontrolled rise of HIV-AIDS.

Philippine Alliance of Patients Organization President, Ms. Maria Fatima “Girlie” Garcia Lorenzo, said that the DOH must be aware of inequities, and must continuously improve itself to overcome them. The agency needs to be more responsive to shifting health priorities. She called for the empowerment of patient groups and the need for policies that will safeguard their participation with a critical yet generative perspective. She further suggested the DOH’s systems should have patient feedback to greatly improve health systems.

Dr. Beaver Tamesis, President of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, for his part said it is important for everybody to be vaccinated. Experts are now understanding that we have to deal with two phases of the virus — the viral replication phase, and the overactive immune phase.

Dr. Jaime A. Almora, Philippine Hospital Association President, focused on policy issues touching on ambiguities in the automatic inclusion of all Filipinos in the National Health Insurance Program, the confiscatory provision of the UHC Law, poor financial risk protection for hospitals, co-payment issues, among others.

The big panel of patient groups that shared their perspectives and expressed their group’s lamentations and suggestions for health reforms included Ms. Aileen Antolin, Vice President, Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc.; Ms. Cynthia K. Madaraog, President, Philippine Society of Orphan Disorders, Inc.; Ms. Cynthia Clemen Y. Duntz, Board Member/ Vice-President, The Philippine Diabetes Support and Awareness Group, Inc.; Mr. Josef de Guzman, Executive Director, Psoriasis Philippines; Ms. Carmen Auste, Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Warriors Foundation; Dr. Johnny K. Lokin, President, The Stroke Society of the Philippines; and Prof. Zenaida F. Velasco, National President, Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines.

As convenor of UHC Watch and co-organizer of this inspiring gathering of health advocates, I am thankful for these practicable and strategic insights that we will integrate into a people-centered health agenda that we hope a new and better government will adopt.

I recommend that you checkout the full recording of the event posted at Stratbase ADRi’s website. Just search - ADRi vTHD: “Synergy Towards a People-Centered Health Agenda.”

Amidst the palpable rage and frustration on ongoing corruption issues, the common call of the spectrum of health advocates is that we must have good, credible leadership that can cope with the highly mutating demands of our country.

As we are now about to enter a transitional phase in our democracy, we must remember the lessons of this crisis and choose our next leaders wisely.

Topics: Orlando Oxales , health system , Stratbase ADR Institute , Universal Health Care Act , Prof. Dindo Manhit
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