Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Philippines' DOH: Advocating Better Health Services for All Filipinos

There are still so many things to be done to improve the lives of Filipinos, especially when it comes to health services. Yet, we must not forget to appreciate the milestones that have already been achieved in the past six years during President Benigno Simeon Aquino III's term.

launching of dengue vaccine for public school students
full story, here
Before 2010, the state of affairs in the health sector included a low budget for health, high out-of-pocket payments, inaccessible health services, and inequitable health outcomes. The good news is, from 2010 to 2014, the Department of Health (DOH) was able to pass Landmark Legislations including the Expanded Senior Citizens Act (2010), Mandatory Infants and Children Immunization Act (2011), Sin Tax Law and Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law (2012), National Health Insurance Act (2013), Graphic Health Warnings Act and Amended Senior Citizens Act (2014).

Dr. Janette Garin became Health Under Secretary in 2013 and provided leadership to the Women, Children, and Family Health Bureau. In early 2015, she was appointed by President Aquino as Secretary of the DOH and was tasked to continue the Kalusugan Pangkalahatan (KP), the administration's core thrust for achieving better health outcomes through financial risk protection, improving access to quality health services, and strengthening existing public health programs to attain health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Health Equity for All
During a recent luncheon with members of the media, Sec. Garin acknowledged that while there are far flung areas all over the Philippines where there is still a great need to improve health services, they have already made progress in reaching and providing services in many difficult-to-reach areas of the country and are continuing to do so.

As a former Congresswoman who served as a national legislator for nine years, Dr. Garin helped lobby for the Magna Carta for Women, Cheaper Medicines Law, the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, Amendment to the Physicians Act, and other key health measures in the Philippine Congress

Sec. Garin sharing milestones achieved by the DOH
Admirably, while serving as one of the core leaders in the 15th Congress, then Rep. Garin managed to earn her Masters Degree in Business Administration focused on healthcare systems in 2011. In addition, her exposure to working with communities gave her a better understanding of the plight of women, children, the elderly, the less privileged, and the general citizenry. This likewise inspired her to ensure that legislative and executive policies and programs are in accordance to health equity that will lead Filipinos to enjoy quality lives. 

These past 19 months, Sec. Garin worked on projects, which had a great impact on public health while also broadening partnerships and introducing systems that made the DOH more efficient and effective. She initiated the development of a strategy to fast track program implementation and improve the agency's gains in maternal, infant and under-five care, control of HIV-AIDS, and establishing service delivery networks. 

strengthening health care at the community level
full story, here
Under her watch, the DOH continued to have increasing budget, achieved unprecedented utilization of this budget, and fast-tracked the procurement process without compromising quality and value-for-money. She shared that tasks were assigned to specific officials and clusters who were empowered to deliver on their responsibilities but also supported in ways that would facilitate alignment of work of different offices. Her constant message to her team? "We need to get this done, and we will get this done together."

Personally, I appreciate learning of the DOH's partnerships with other national government agencies, Local Government Units (LGUs), and the private sector to complement resources for the agency's programs. For example, the collaboration with the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Department of Interior and Local Governments (DILG) has provided the platform for the DOH school-based immunization program, the most recent of which was dengue vaccination for over one million 9-year-old fourth grade public school students in the National Capital Region and Regions III and IV-A.

innovative solutions are still needed in Philippine health care
to sustain the country's development goals
Her commitment to healthy equity for all, especially the poor, was moreover highlighted with the introduction of other vaccines against polio, cervical cancer, measles-rubella-tetanus-diptheria, and rabies (full dose) that were, for the longest time, only available in the private sector.

Before her term ends, Sec. Garin is hopeful that the DOH's achievements (increased coverage, expanded benefits, positive trend in health outcomes, increased service delivery, etc.) be sustained by whoever the new administration would appoint as the next Secretary of Health. She also expressed optimism for more innovative solutions in terms of further reducing the cost of medicines, fair case rates and co-payment systems, and the removal of overlaps in financing and service delivery by streamlining the roles of the DOH, Philhealth and LGUs.

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