Failure in leadership, gross mismanagement, and a disconnect between approaches and results in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic are straining the Philippines’ already-fragile and fragmented health system, experts said during a virtual forum of the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute and advocacy group Universal Healthcare Watch held recently.
Professor Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADRi institute said, “As the government moved towards another quarantine scheme, while the country continues to face an uptrend surge in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant, it is vital to provide our healthcare system with adequate resources to constantly respond with the needs of the public.”
“The government should prioritize the implementation of the UHC Law, together with other health laws and allocate adequate resources for their operationalization based on sound data and evidence-based information,” he said.
“Various stakeholders can proactively collaborate in the decision-making process so that through this whole-of-society approach the country’s health systems could achieve better health outcomes with a greater sense of accountability in healthcare delivery,” Manhit said.
Manhit stressed, “We must demand complete visibility and reckoning of performance. Disruptions brought by the pandemic is a tried excuse that we should no longer tolerate. We need responsive performance and good governance.”
“Filipinos do not need political rhetoric. We will not be swayed by words anymore,” Manhit said.
One of the speakers, Dr. Leni Jara, Executive Director for the Council for Health and Development, said testing, contact tracing and treatment capability remain woefully inadequate.
“We still have a very high positivity rate, 29%, despite our under-testing. And yet we are already in seventh position as far as the number of cases of COVID is concerned,” said Dr. Jara.
“COVID testing is not accessible for everybody because most of them are in urban centers – 116 in Metro Manila, 18 in Cebu, and 10 other provinces that have it. There are 31 provinces that don’t have testing centers.”
Despite the fact that the demand for free mass testing has never been granted, now come reports that testing kits worth P500 million simply expired and were not used.
“It’s revolting for me,” she said.
She added that inadequate contact tracing has caused the persistence in the community transmission of the virus, that hospitals lack medicines and the capacity to cope with the number of patients. And while the government sees vaccines as the solution, herd immunity cannot be achieved at the rate we are rolling out vaccines.
Alvin Manalansan, co-convenor, of UHC Watch, said in a statement that, “The controversies manifested by alleged corruption, transparency, and negligence has damaged the image of the Department of Health and affects our fight against COVID 19.”
Manalansan pointed to the government’s frazzled response to the pandemic, resulting in experimentation with various types of mobility restrictions that only serve to bring utter confusion to Filipinos.
Given all these gaps in the healthcare system, Manalansan sees the election season as a good opportunity for different stakeholders to have a strategic health agenda with clear and strategic policy recommendations and solutions that can must be sustained for many administrations.
“We need a holistic, transparent and people-centered approach to healthcare, one that duly considers the rights and needs of different health constituents and stakeholders,” he said.
Other speakers in the forum included Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, former Health Secretary; Ms. Maria Fatima “Girlie” Garcia Lorenzo, President, Philippine Alliance of Patients Organization (PAPO); Dr. Beaver Tamesis from the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP); and Dr. Jaime A. Almora, President, Philippine Hospital Association.
Reactors, meanwhile, included representatives of various health groups: Ms. Aileen Antolin, Vice President, Philippine Foundation for Breast Care Inc.; Ms. Cynthia K. Madaraog, President, Philippine Society of Orphan Disorders, Inc.; Ms. Cynthia Clemen Y. Duntz, Board Member/ Vice-President, The Philippine Diabetes Support and Awareness Group, Inc.; Mr. Josef de Guzman, Executive Director, Psoriasis Philippines; Ms. Carmen Auste, Chief Executive Officer, Cancer Warriors Foundation; Dr. Johnny K. Lokin, President, The Stroke Society of the Philippines; and Prof. Zenaida F. Velasco, National President, Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines.