Prioritizing health agenda
I attended the first of a series of dialogues with the presidential candidates earlier this week organized by the Makati Business Club (MBC) and the Management Association of the Philippines.
It was Sen. Grace Poe’s turn, and she expounded on her platform should she get elected. Understandably, she focused on the business and economic aspects, because she was speaking before a group of top-caliber businessmen, CEOs and managers—many of whom belong to the who’s who list in Philippine business.
She articulated her vision to make the country grow at an equal if not better rate than many of our progressive Asian neighbors, with the per capita income also increasing tenfold in the next 25 years.
Senator Poe also discussed extensively her plans to increase the government’s support for agriculture to improve the lot of farmers and provide food security for everyone, but save for a one-liner about making health-care delivery and education inclusive for all Filipinos, rich and poor alike, she made me feel bothered about her “pregnant silence” on how to achieve a truly meaningful universal healthcare or kalusugang pangkalahatan.
Since all questions had to be written down on the provided sheet of paper and passed on to the discussion panel chaired by MBC president Ramon del Rosario Jr., I wrote down my question on how she envisions to address the health-care gaps in the country, and she plans to optimize partnership with the private sector—with people who have not only financial resources but technical expertise in cost-effectively managing health-care facilities—in order to provide every Filipino adequate medical access at all levels of healthcare (primary, secondary and tertiary; preventive and curative).
I guess there were a lot of questions, or my usual doctor’s penmanship simply made my question unreadable; so my question was never asked. Anyway, I hope Senator Grace and the other presidential candidates will be able to read this piece and gain a 5-cent worth of insight from it.
We hope all our presidential aspirants would realize and agree that we can never have sustained economic progress unless we sort out our health-care issues first. All diseases, especially chronic diseases, which require long-term or lifelong treatment and cause repeated hospitalizations, impose a huge toll on the country’s financial resources. Productivity, from a population perspective, will never be at its optimum to achieve the desired growth they enthusiastically envision, unless we have a generally healthy nation.
Senator Grace and the other presidential candidates can ask their assistants to scan the literature and gather factual, real-world data that could convince them of how investments in health (health literacy, health promotion, population control) can actually translate to surplus currency that can be channeled to other programs for national development.
It has been shown in other developed and developing countries that when a country’s government invests sufficiently to attain a high rate of health literacy, it is likely to lead to positive health-promoting behaviors that translate into favorable long-term health outcomes, specifically in reducing maternal and infant illnesses and deaths, and reducing the incidences of prevalent diseases.
As a strong driver for health promotion, a high level of health literacy leads to a positive health-seeking behavior for disease prevention. The aptitude and attitude to prevent communicable diseases are higher, and the desire to actively seek immunization and other preventive health services is stronger. If one has developed a disease already, it can make one seek prompt consultation for early diagnosis and treatment.
Therefore, the good and wise leader is one who considers prioritizing health promotion and other public health programs as a worthwhile investment and not an additional pricey expense that should only be addressed if one has surplus budget. We hope that the recent cut of the health budget intended for family planning programs is not a preview of things to come, nor does it reflect the government’s commitment, or lack of it, in pursuing its stated health agenda.
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