Commentary: Building a responsive, resilient, people-centered health agenda
Two years into this global pandemic, what is now clear is that countries with highly adaptable health systems and long-standing universal healthcare programs are better able to respond to the crisis, compared to countries with underdeveloped systems. The continuing health crisis has also exposed the many weaknesses of a country’s health ecosystem.
Bloomberg recently released its COVID Resilience Ranking. This revealed the lessons we can learn in pandemic response: Widespread degree of government trust and societal compliance, appropriate public health infrastructure investments, and funding healthcare research and development. All nations who fared well in the ranking constantly exhibited these features.
Unfortunately, the Philippines registered a dismal performance—we were at the bottom of the heap—in September’s ranking, when compared to the performance of our neighboring Southeast Asian countries, namely Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam. According to Bloomberg, the Philippines is among those that fall short in terms of vaccine coverage, have the most stringent in lockdowns, have the lowest in-flight capacity, and that are among the lowest in COVID-19 containment.
Immediate reforms, particularly in the Department of Health, are needed given the enormity of the country’s health challenges. The people are desperate for a coordinated, coherent and cohesive response in addressing this continuing health crisis.
The government cannot address these alone.
Our struggles in the past 18 months have been an eye-opener for many. The lessons we have learned present opportunities for learning, unlearning and relearning many things to make our healthcare system more responsive to the needs of the public and resilient to future public health threats.
These were part of the objectives of the virtual town hall discussion, entitled "Synergy Towards a People-Centered Health Agenda" held on September 24 and hosted by the think tank Stratbase ADR Institute, in partnership with UHC Watch. The said event gathered various experts and stakeholders from the public, private and civil society sectors, as well as patients’ groups and organizations. The participants shared their perspectives and valuable insights that can help frame a strategic and renewed healthcare agenda for the next set of leaders.
Prof. Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase ADR Institute, in his opening remarks, mentioned that various stakeholders can proactively collaborate in the decision-making process. This whole-of-society approach will enable the country’s health systems to achieve better outcomes with a greater sense of accountability in healthcare delivery.
Among the respected speakers who sparked the discussions on the current health issues and framed recommendations for the next health agenda were Dr. Leni Jara, executive director of the Council for Health and Development; former Health Secretary Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan; Maria Fatima “Girlie” Garcia Lorenzo, president of the Philippine Alliance of Patients Organization; Dr. Beaver Tamesis, president of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, and Dr. Jaime A. Almora, president of the Philippine Hospital Association.
A panel of reactors enriched the discussions. They were composed of representatives from various patient groups and organizations: Aileen Antolin, vice president, Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc.; Cynthia K. Madaraog, president of the Philippine Society of Orphan Disorders Inc.; Cynthia Clemen Y. Duntz, board member/ vice-president of The Philippine Diabetes Support and Awareness Group Inc.; Josef de Guzman, executive director of Psoriasis Philippines; Carmen Auste, chief executive officer of Cancer Warriors Foundation and vice-president of Cancer Coalition of the Philippines; Dr. Johnny K. Lokin, president of The Stroke Society of the Philippines; and Prof. Zenaida F. Velasco, national president of the Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines.
Accountable leadership, the speakers agreed, will be the ideal underlying theme of the healthcare agenda under the next administration.
Certainly, we need leaders who will be accountable for their actions, accountable for delivering their promises and accountable for implementing the health laws that are in place. They are leaders who are qualified to manage health funds, implement health programs, listen to patients’ needs and fight corruption.
The militaristic approach that has been employed by our current leaders is not working; it does not inspire confidence among the people.
The speakers and reactors also agreed to allocate appropriate/additional funding for health, especially for those unimplemented health laws (e.g., Rare Disease Act). There is also the need to increase the purchasing ability of the government and to ramp up investments in infrastructure development and equipment. There should, however, be a balance in the allocation between COVID-related and non-COVID related purchases.
UHC Watch said in its statement: “We must remember the lessons of this crisis and choose our leaders wisely. We must all work together to make universal healthcare a reality.”
Events like this demonstrate and emphasize the utmost importance of stakeholders’ participation at all levels of the decision-making process and in framing the next healthcare agenda.
Let us all take a stand and claim a stake in building a responsive, resilient and people-centered health care agenda.
Alvin Manalansan is a non-resident fellow at think tank Stratbase ADR Institute and a convenor at CitizenWatch Philippines.
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