In pursuit of universal healthcare
WE’RE GLAD to note two recent news items that augur well for the achievement of universal healthcare in the country. First is the approval of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) to establish an International Public Private Partnership (PPP) Specialist Center for Health in Manila; and second is the P100 Medicines Access Program of the government wherein the poor could avail of essential treatment packages for common medical problems requiring long-term treatment for a token price of P100.
Both developments look good on paper and should they be effectively implemented, they will definitely contribute a lot to provide access to adequate healthcare for something like 25 million Filipinos belonging to the poorest sector of the population. We realize that between approval of the plan and its actual implementation is a wide and vicious chiasm that can cause the best of strategies and intentions to falter, but with a strong political will from P-Noy and our government officials, plus a strong cooperation from the private sector and healthcare community, the goal of a truly meaningful universal healthcare—which has been very elusive to our past administrations—could finally find its fruition.
Health secretary Ike Ona announced the good news of the commitment to establish a UNECE Center of Excellence in the country following a meeting in the Palais de Nations in Geneva wherein he was one of the panel speakers together with other ministers and government officials from Europe and the Middle East.
The UNECE, which is one of five regional commissions under the administrative direction of United Nations headquarters in Geneva, was established in 1947 to forge an economic cooperation among its member-states. I’m not quite sure if the Philippines is a member of the UNECE, but apparently, it was chosen to be one of the beneficiaries with the plan to establish the Center of Excellence here. The UNECE PPP initiative aims to globally improve the quality of life through the improved quality and access to public utilities and services, especially in third world and developing countries.
“We are keen on engaging the private sector to help upgrade our hospitals and other health facilities in the next five years, to the tune of at least P37.5 billion,” Sec. Ona said. He also expressed the Aquino administration’s recognition of the crucial role the private sector has to play in pursuing whatever developmental plans the government has through the forging of committed PPPs.
Through the UNECE center, countries would benefit from material support and expert advice, as well as high-level advisory missions, particularly in the development and successful implementation of PPPs. I believe funding support can be availed of through UN-affiliated financial institutions such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Finance Corp.
Roles of the center
According to the DOH, the roles of the center are:
Fund the establishment and operation of the UNECE PPP Specialist Center
Fund the development and updating of the specific best practice and guides under the direction by the UN PPP Secretariat
Manage the sector specific PPP Research Program
Establish and manage the Specialist Center Membership
Establish an international database within the sector
Sec. Ona said this tie-up with the UNECE is consistent with the Aquino Health Agenda of achieving universal healthcare by means of mobilizing PPPs for improving health facilities.
To start the ball rolling, the Asian Development Bank and the Australian Agency for International Development pledged $1.5 million and $7 million respectively, as grants for improving the Philippine government’s capacity to develop, tender and monitor implementation of the PPP projects. This initial grant will get us started but it will not get us very far.
I don’t think the UNECE PPP initiative should be expected to bankroll the plan of upgrading our government hospitals and other health facilities, or provide free medicines to the poor. The UNECE will not give us the fish, but it will teach our government how to fish—sustaining our health developmental plans by our own initiatives.
We need to convince the private sector, not only our business tycoons but all others who have a peso to spare, to buy into the plan and pitch in their share. We just need to assure everyone that every peso will go to where it should go.