MANILA – Affordable medicines for ordinary people and the establishment of easy-to-reach hospitals and health centers for Filipinos living in far-flung rural areas are among the priorities of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
“Beyond the issues that the pandemic has brought, the need for a stronger health care system is self-evident. We must bring medical services to the people and not wait for them to come to our hospitals and health care centers,” Marcos said in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
Marcos noted the importance of having the healthcare system close to the community, especially in the rural areas lacking medical and health workers.
“Para mailapit natin ang healthcare system sa taumbayan nang hindi sila kailangang pumunta sa sentro ng kanilang bayan, lalawigan at rehiyon. Maglalagay tayo ng mga clinic at Rural Health Unit na pupuntahan ng mga doktor, nurse, midwife, at med tech isang beses sa isang linggo -- nang sa gayon, magiging mas madali sa may karamdaman na magpagamot nang hindi na kailangang magbyahe nang malayo (We will bring the health care system closer to the people so that they will no longer have to go to the centers of their town, province, and region. We’ll put up clinics and Rural Health Units [RHUs] to be visited by doctors, nurses, midwives and med techs once a week -- it would be easier for the sick to be treated without having to travel far),” Marcos said.
In 2020, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that the country has around 3,900 primary care facilities. Of the tally, about 2,593 are RHUs and/or health centers (HCs).
The plan to bring the health care system close to the people was initiated in the DOH’s Philippine Health Facility Development Plan (PHFDP) 2020-2040 under the Duterte administration.
The PHFDP articulates the required investments for health facilities and follows the service delivery model envisioned in the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act of 2019 - a primary care-oriented and integrated health system.
Highlighting that only 50 percent of Filipinos have access to an RHU/HC within 30 minutes of travel time, the PHFDP also emphasized the country needs an additional 2,400 RHU/HCs by 2025.
Marcos said additional hospitals and health centers would be built where the existing medical facilities are too far from the populace.
Marcos is also seeking the help of both houses of Congress to pass a law that will create the country’s first Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a vaccine institute.
“Napakinabangan na natin nang husto ang malalaking specialty hospitals gaya ng Heart Center, Lung Center, Philippine Children’s Medical Center at National Kidney and Transplant Institute. Kaya maliwanag sa atin na hindi lang dapat dito sa National Capital Region [NCR], kundi maging sa ibang parte ng bansa kailangang magdagdag ng ganitong uri ng mga pagamutan (We have benefited a lot from big specialty hospitals like the Heart Center, Lung Center, Philippine Children’s Medical Center and National Kidney and Transplant Institute. It is clear that such type of hospitals be built in other parts of the country not only in the NCR),” Marcos said.
Senate Bill 2505 or the Philippine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Act will establish the Centers for Health Statistics, Surveillance and Epidemiology, Health Evidence, and Reference Laboratories under the DOH.
A counterpart bill in the House of Representatives was approved in July 2021.
Earlier, DOH Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire noted that the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the country’s need for a vaccine institute that would promote the protection against infectious diseases and pandemics.
The provision of competent and efficient medical professionals is one of the cornerstones of a strong healthcare system, Marcos said.
“We will exert more efforts to improve the welfare of our doctors, nurses, and other medical frontliners,” he added.
To ease the financial burden on people buying medicines for maintenance and other treatments, Marcos said he has initiated dialogues with local and foreign pharmaceutical companies -- convincing them to bring out their supplies to the market so that medicine prices will be affordable to ordinary people.
“Halimbawa, kung mas marami ang mas murang generic o hindi branded na gamot sa merkado, mas bababa rin ang presyo dahil sa kumpetisyon. Ang Department of Trade and Industry ang makikipag-usap sa mga interesadong manufacturer ng generic drugs na papasok sa ating bansa (For example, if there are more cheap generic medicines in the market, prices will be lower because of competition. The Department of Trade and Industry will speak with interested manufacturers of generic drugs that will enter the country),” he said.
He added that he ordered the Philippine Competition Commission on the equality and removal of cartel among pharmaceutical companies because an open market would lead to lower medicine prices and health benefits for more Filipinos.
Under the Republic Act 9502 or The Universally Accessible Cheaper and Quality Medicines Act of 2008, the government makes medicines more accessible and affordable to Filipinos by enforcing provisions that improve market competition, availability, contain costs, improve healthcare provider and consumers behavior, and even regulate prices when instances so require.
Citing that new variants of the coronavirus continue to threaten the health of the people, Marcos emphasized the importance of balance between public health and safety and the economy as the country can no longer afford another lockdown.
All the concerned agencies of government are now closely coordinating with each other to monitor Covid-19-related hospital admissions and to ensure enough room in the health care system for other diseases.
“Patuloy din ang ating vaccine booster rollout para sa ating pangkalahatang depensa. Sa ganitong paraan, kahit pa tumaas muli ang bilang ng Covid cases, mananatiling mababa ang bilang ng mangangailangan ng hospitalization at bilang ng namamatay (The vaccine booster rollout will continue as our general defense. So that even if Covid cases rise, the number of patients needing hospitalization and dying would be low),” he said.
Last week, Department of Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire said Marcos would officially launch the PinasLakas on July 26 with the help of local government units.
She noted that the DOH, through the campaign, aims to vaccinate 90 percent of the target elderly population and to boost 50 percent of the target population during the first 100 days of the Marcos administration.
Apart from getting vaccinated and receiving booster doses, Marcos reiterated the importance of strictly following the minimum health protocols amid the prevailing pandemic. (PNA)