We all have a part to play in building a healthier Philippines

A microscopic virus brought the world to its knees. But we keep on fighting, together

(File Photo/ Manila Bulletin)

The COVID-19 health emergency has been a wake-up call, laying bare human vulnerabilities. In the Philippines, where millions live below the poverty line, the highly infectious disease not only showed us the fragilities of our health systems but also worsened their state. With everyone still at the mercy of the pandemic, the burden health workers and frontliners carry grows heavier by the day.

The passing of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law from two years ago signaled hope for the sector. It amplified the efforts of the Department of Health (DOH) along with its attached agencies to provide Filipinos access to cost-effective, quality care. When the health crisis took place, the law was put to the test, emphasizing the need for more resilient healthcare in the Philippines.

To drive system change, we need a more dynamic and inclusive approach to collaboration. Enter Health4All, a coalition that unites healthcare experts and engaged citizens. This combined action, powered by makesense Philippines with the support of Sanofi Philippines, opens inroads for collaboratively designing health outcomes for Pinoys. Its goal is to provide the underprivileged and underserved communities with support for better health decisions and opportunities.

The consortium is also currently working on health and social challenges heightened by the pandemic, namely elevated strain on mental health, increased risks for patients with lifestyle diseases, and “infodemic” or the overwhelming deluge of accurate and inaccurate information on health and disease.

May was greeted with the first-ever media roundtable of Health4All.

Head of mission and first counselor of the Embassy of France in Manila, Fabrice Fize, delivered a keynote message that underscored the significance of vaccine confidence to meet the Philippines’ goals in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. He stressed that as part of the COVID-19 national vaccination plan, it was urgent to build trust in the health systems and to give communities access to reliable information about vaccination to strengthen people’s willingness to get vaccinated. “We have to reaffirm our commitment to strengthening the health systems of the most vulnerable countries, with a view of achieving universal health coverage,” said Fize.

During the virtual discussion, the French official was joined by a panel of health experts and representatives from both private and public sectors. Speakers included the head of program implementation and outreach division under the Health Promotion Bureau of DOH, Dr. Alfonso Regala, founder of Hope in Me Club, Dr. Tina Alberto, CEO of digital healthcare company Alaga Health, Dr. Dexter Galban, as well as private sector representative and general manager of Sanofi Pasteur, Jean-Antoine Zinsou.


FOR A HEALTHY FUTURE Clockwise from top left: First counselor of the Embassy of France in Manila, Fabrice Fize, Alfonso Regala. Dr. Tina Alberto, Carlos Hechanova, Jean-Antoine Zinsou, and Dr. Dexter Galban

“When we talk about health promotion, we talk about creating environments where people know how to keep themselves healthy, and where people are able to act on that knowledge. This is where the different sectoral partnerships come in,” said Dr. Regala.

Meanwhile, Zinsou emphasized the role of the private sector in making healthcare more accessible to everyone. “We believe that this spirit of shared responsibility and mutual concern will drive transformation in our health system. The private sector is committed to supporting the DOH’s efforts to make health for all Filipinos a reality,” he said before adding that the vaccines division of the French multinational pharmaceutical company was looking forward to working with the coalition to strengthen the healthcare systems.

Dr. Alberto, on the other hand, showcased how community health organizations like the Hope in Me Club, whose roster of volunteers range from healthcare workers to patients, bridge the various programs of the DOH to the community via integrated health education programs. “We should also recognize that our patients are not mere recipients of information. We should also treat them as advocates for health and they can also be our champions for vaccination and health,” she explained.

In his presentation, Dr. Galban championed young people and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). When young people’s access to health care is compromised, the Philippines’ future is compromised as well. “Our economy is primarily fueled by the young working-age Filipinos who significantly contribute to production, commerce, and growth,” he said. The Philippines today has the largest generation of young people in history, with over 30 million young people between the ages of 10 and 24. At least one million young Filipinos will be entering the workforce in 2021. “Young people today understand the importance of health literacy and access to health care,”added Dr. Galban.

Imagining Healthy Futures is a recently-concluded youth initiative for health literacy program by Health4All. The endeavor allows passionate citizens, young health leaders, and health professionals the chance to build their professional future and create impacts by empowering local communities in need. Around 50,000 new health advocates, online and offline, were reached. The pilot focused on crucial health areas such as building vaccine confidence in communities.

“Central to our approach is building people-powered solutions for health issues. It’s important that our platform is able to equip and empower ordinary citizens to act. We emphasize that the expertise and knowledge that communities and their leaders have is equally valuable as the support from our medical specialists and that through this movement, we can properly harness both to drive social change and a holistic recovery,” said Carlos Hechanova, executive director for development of Makesense Philippines, the lead coordinator of Health4All.

To date, the coalition has worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), University of Philippines (UP) Manila, Philippine Foundation for Vaccination (PFV), RTI International, Doctors to the Barrios, the Philippine Society of Public Health Physicians (PSPHP), Healthcare Professionals Alliance Against COVID-19 (HPAAC), Alliance for Improving Health Outcomes, and the Philippine Red Cross.