By Charina Clarisse Echaluce
After getting the “highest budget of the health department ever”, the Department of Health (DOH) will allot 60 percent of the fund to public health services, improve infrastructure and services, decongest hospitals, and build a vaccine production facility, among others.
“Last September 7, we had a plenary discussion of our budget. I believe, in the DOH history, it was the shortest deliberation of around five hours…. Sometimes we would extend until 4 a.m., 5 a.m. But last September 7, we finished at around 9:30 p.m. We were able to pass the highest budget of the health department ever at P164.4 billion. And this is nine percent higher than our current budget of around P154 billion. This represents, actually, nine percent of the total expenditures of national government,” Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Ubial told Manila Bulletin Hot Seat, a roundtable discussion with Manila Bulletin editors.
“We are happy that Congress supported our budget for 2018 and we hope that this will really translate to more health services for our people. Sixty percent of the 2018 budget is dedicated for public health services. That compose our preventive promotive which means health programs for the well to keep them healthy. And around 30 percent goes to hospital services, and 10 percent to administrative cost,” she noted.
The DOH is also set to introduce polyclinics, believing that such will help decongest hospitals in the country.
“One of the things that we’re also going to introduce is the polyclinic that is a diagnostic facility. We don’t have that now. What we have are RHU or doctor’s clinic, and the hospital,” the DOH chief disclosed.
In Cuba, which is considered one of the countries with the best health systems, there are polyclinics that prevent hospitals from getting crowded, she shared.
“In Cuba, there’s the doctor clinic, there’s a polyclinic. That’s the diagnostic, the ultra sound, the specialist before you go to the hospital. In Cuba, their hospitals are under occupied, around 60 to 80 percent occupancy, because majority of the patients are already addressed by the polyclinic. May x-ray, ultra sound, laboratory, and even ambulatory health services are done in polyclinics. That’s what we want to do, to decongest the hospitals,” she added.
The DOH will also venture into public-private partnership (PPP) projects, which includes the creation of a vaccine production facility.
“Currently, we have developed the PPP Management Unit in the DOH so we have capacitated our own personnel so that they can better manage the PPP projects that we will be adopting in the future. We have a number of projects already in the pipeline,” Ubial noted.
“There is a vaccine production facility. Actually we’re the only country in Asia, I was told, that does not have a vaccine production facility…. In the Philippines, all our vaccines are imported,” she disclosed.
In line with the DOH’s vaccination program, the government is set to introduce the Japanese encephalitis vaccine next year.
But despite their huge budget, Ubial admits, “it’s never sufficient. As I’ve mentioned, we did present to the President and the Cabinet what we believe is an ideal health system following the Cuban Model. The President directed me to study and actually go there to find out how come Cuba is known worldwide as one of the best health systems,” Ubial shared.
“We actually discovered that the main intervention in Cuba is primary healthcare, meaning that all citizens have annual checkup. We really introduced that since last year,” she said but the agency was only able to target about 20 million individuals.
“Because of the lack of health facilities and lack of doctors, we were only able to target the 20 million poorest Filipinos. And we’re targeting the 50 percent of the poorest population to be subjected to annual checkup this year. So that is around 50 million Filipinos,” she said.
Need for health workers, facilities
The health department also seeks to address the need for more health workers and health facilities.
“The ideal health system is one health worker and one health facility per barangay and ratio (of) one hospital bed per 800 population. Currently, we have one health worker and one health facility for every two barangays . . . But sometimes, there is one health worker for five barangays or four barangays and one hospital bed per 2,500 population,” the health secretary disclosed.
In the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Ubial said the ratio is one hospital bed per 4,500 and in Metro Manila, one is to 589.
“With that disparity, we are actually missing 42,000 hospital beds and we’re missing around 20,000 barangay health stations,” she added.
In God’s hands
Ubial is yet to hurdle the powerful Commission on Appointments.
“I just received notice yesterday that it will be on September 26,” she told the forum and is leaving everything to God.
“How do I feel? I leave it up to God. Sabi ko, I cannot control it. I have no means of, actually, predicting it or influencing the outcome,” she expressed.
“I’ve been with government for 28 years, ang sa akin lang, trabaho lang. If the members of Senate and Congress would like me to continue to work as the DOH Secretary, I leave it up to them,” she stated.
“If they don’t want me, I will still continue working with the Filipino in whatever capacity,” Ubial assured.
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