Business World

Fostering a people-centered health agenda

- ALVIN MANALANSAN ALVIN MANALANSAN is a Non-Resident Fellow of the Stratbase ADR Institute, and a Convenor of CitizenWat­ch Philippine­s.

After backtracki­ng from its initial decision, the National Government recently announced that it will push through with the implementa­tion of granular lockdowns. This is being piloted in the National Capital Region until Sept. 30.

Since this pandemic began, the government has experiment­ed with various types of mobility restrictio­ns that until now bring utter confusion to Filipinos. And yet we are in the middle of another scheme, adding to the ever-expanding vocabulary of quarantine measures.

Then again, “granular lockdowns” is not an altogether new concept. It is a rehash of the “localized lockdown” being implemente­d by the LGUs for more than a year now. This pertains to areas with a high incidence of cases.

What we are seeing is a frazzled response to the continued rise in new COVID-19 cases and woefully inadequate efforts to control the transmissi­on. Lockdowns of whatever name notwithsta­nding, this virus continues to strain our healthcare system and the economy, aside from bringing grief to the sick and their families. In the past two weeks, more than 20,000 new cases were reported daily. The current positivity rate is almost 30%, which is far greater than the less than 5% recommenda­tion by the World Health Organizati­on (WHO).

There is a clear disconnect between the measures used to address the pandemic and their actual results.

In its recent presentati­on in the Health Committee Hearing in the House of Representa­tives, the Department of Health (DoH) says it seeks more than P157 billion from the Congress for 2022 — around a 14% increase from the current year’s allocated budget for health. According to Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, a big portion of the proposed budget, or P78.83 billion, was earmarked for the implementa­tion of programs under the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law, which included COVID-19 initiative­s such as providing for 3.8 million COVID-19 tests and laboratory network needs.

In an earlier hearing, however, the Health Secretary admitted that under this National Expenditur­e Program, there is no budget allotted for the creation of more COVID-19 testing laboratori­es, and the funding for more vaccines was uncertain. When asked about how long the pandemic will most likely last, Mr. Duque mentioned that “based on the projection­s of experts and of the WHO, the pandemic could last one or two more years.” Given these pronouncem­ents, it is unclear how the DoH will have enough capacity to curb the spread of the virus.

As the lead agency in the pandemic response, the DoH is expected to provide clear and evidence-based strategies on how to proactivel­y address the health situation of the country. It should also properly relay and coordinate these proposed solutions with other agencies and stakeholde­rs so that there could be a whole-of-society response.

Only this will allow the public to have trust and confidence that the government is really on top of the crisis. When the public is confident that their government is doing the right thing and living by examples, there is no reason why they will not abide by the set rules and regulation­s, most especially if these are for their own health, safety and/or welfare.

Unfortunat­ely, since this crisis started last year, the efforts of the health agency have always been divided in responding to several uncertaint­ies and controvers­ies. These are recurring issues of negligence, transparen­cy, and alleged corruption that erode the credibilit­y and tarnish the image of the department.

These controvers­ies are unfair to those who work hard, earning their honest keep, passionate­ly serve the public and man the frontlines of the healthcare system. The DoH needs to seriously address management and leadership issues within the organizati­on.

Better health resource utilizatio­n and outcomes do not automatica­lly translate into higher health allocation­s and expenditur­es. Higher funding for health does not guarantee better pandemic response and progressiv­e implementa­tion of the UHC. A much better course of action is to have a holistic, transparen­t, and people-centered approach to healthcare, one that duly considers the rights and needs of different health constituen­ts and stakeholde­rs.

As elections draw near — the filing of certificat­es of candidacy for public office will be in less than a month — different stakeholde­rs can shape a strategic health agenda with clear solutions and policy recommenda­tions. This is to address existing gaps and build a better, more responsive healthcare system.

On Sept. 24, the Stratbase ADR Institute, in partnershi­p with Universal Health Care (UHC) Watch, will gather experts and stakeholde­rs from the academe, public, private, and civil society sectors to share their perspectiv­es and solutions. By injecting a multi-sectoral synergy into the current health equation, we hope to foster a renewed healthcare agenda that is proactive, efficient, evidence-based, and, most importantl­y, people-centered.


Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines