It’s Time for Immediate Action: A Challenge to the New Health Secretary on Tackling the Persistent Health Crisis

The Medical Action Group (MAG) welcomes the appointment of Dr. Teodoro Herbosa, a renowned expert on emergency medicine and public-private partnership in health, as the new Secretary of the Department of Health (DOH). After a year of the Marcos administration, healthcare has seemingly taken a backseat to other government priorities. But with the appointment of a health professional with DOH experience at the helm of the national health agency, expectations are high that he will translate his experience to doing what is best for the health system of the country – which is to work comprehensively to deliver on the promise of the universal health care – that all people have access to the full range of quality health services they need without financial hardship.”

It is a matter of fact that the Philippine public health system is in dire need of improvement. Limited access to healthcare has resulted in preventable illnesses and deaths of many Filipinos.

As the new health secretary, it is now his duty to address these inadequacies and decays in the public health system.  MAG as a health and human rights organization, recommends that the new health secretary make a firm resolve to: 

1. Increase health expenditures:
Strengthening and expanding the government’s health insurance programs such as PhilHealth to cover a wider range of services and include more vulnerable groups can reduce the financial burden on families who have to struggle with out-of-pocket expenses and have access to critical health services. The new health secretary must work with local government units to increase the health budget and expenditure to ensure the delivery of public health services.

2. Ensure transparency and accountability:
Issues of corruption and other irregularities have hounded the DOH in recent years. This is compounded by the recent move to transfer the supervision of PhilHealth (PHIC) to the Office of the President (OP) which raises concerns about possible corruption and political influences in the management of the national health insurance program. The new secretary of the Department of Health (DOH), coming from the public health sector, must take proactive steps to ensure transparency and accountability in public health funds. He must thoroughly study the proposal to transfer PHIC to the OP by consulting health experts on this matter.

3. Increase healthcare personnel:
The shortage of healthcare professionals due to many health workers continuing to leave the country is proven to have disastrous consequences, especially during times of public health crises like the current COVID-19 pandemic. The new health secretary must address the root causes of health worker migration including increasing the salaries and benefits of health workers, providing better working conditions and career growth opportunities, and creating a supportive environment that values the contributions of health workers.

4. Promote preventive healthcare:
Preventive healthcare measures such as regular check-ups, screenings, and vaccinations play a vital role in ensuring the overall health and well-being of the population. The new health secretary can help reduce the incidence of chronic diseases and illnesses, as well as improve population health outcomes by prioritizing and promoting preventive healthcare.

5. Ensure access to essential medicines:
Access to essential medicines is critical for the population’s health. The lack of available and accessible low-cost, quality generic medicines is still pervasive. The new health secretary must work to promote local production and distribution of these medicines, as well as measures that reduce the cost of imported medicines to ensure the availability of essential medicines in public hospitals and various health clinics.

6. Address social determinants of health
Aside from addressing the immediate health concerns, social determinants of health like poverty, that many Filipino people are facing must be given attention. The new health secretary must work with other government agencies to adopt a holistic approach to addressing social determinants of health, in order to ensure that all Filipinos have the opportunity to lead healthy, productive lives.

As the public health system continues to suffer from decades of neglect and inequity, we know that the challenges facing the new Secretary of the Department of Health are numerous and complex.  However, the new health secretary must show a strong vision and commitment to make immediate action in tackling the persistent public health crisis, and to make a significant impact in improving the health and well-being of millions of Filipinos.