On SONA 2022: Plans for the health sector need to be more concrete

By Bea Santina Maranan 

The current foundation of our healthcare system is barely surviving the hurdles brought by the pandemic. With the untrustworthy government that regularly favors fast remedies for longshot problems, not much development can be expected from our already subpar healthcare system. 

Cartoon by Billy Abistado

In his first State of the Nation Address, 17th President of the Philippines Ferdinand Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr., addressed the pandemic and healthcare plans under his administration. Marcos Jr. assured the public with no more lockdowns and the rollout of booster shots to improve immunity and lessen fatalities. 

With a plummeting economy and crippling debt, it is true that we cannot afford another lockdown. It will be detrimental to our already failing economy. We can recall that after the Marcoses' return to supreme power, numerous foreign investors withdrew their money.
The stock market turned red and our economy weakened. Additionally, the staggering 12.76 trillion debt left by the Duterte administration plays a huge role in the slow regeneration of our country in general, making less room for improvement with the multiple loans we need to repay back. 

Moreover, the newly established government aims to administer 50% of the boosters to their target population within the first 100 days of his term. An ambitious goal for the administration, when the president is yet to appoint a Department of Health (DOH) Secretary.

With only 71.5 million people with complete dosage against COVID-19 and only 15.9 million who received booster shots. The previous administration's objective was not achieved. With the aim of administering at least 70% of vaccines by December 2021— however, we just reached 72% this July--Filipinos remain unvaccinated and unboosted due to hesitancy and inaccessible vaccination venues. Not much is anticipated with the multiple failed promises we’ve seen. 

On the other hand, the President’s pledge to bring healthcare closer to the masses, especially those in rural areas, was lauded by the public. He emphasized the convenience of having closer hospitals and mentioned the establishment of clinics and rural health units where physicians, nurses, midwives, and medical technologists will visit.

The following propositions must be enacted as quickly as possible, albeit Marcos Jr. failed to provide a clear direction on how these will be accomplished. 

Moreover, as part of his efforts to increase the country's access to medicine, Marcos Jr. has started talking to potential producers of generic drugs through the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and domestic and foreign pharmaceuticals. He is requesting the support of both houses of Congress to approve a law that will create the nation's first Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a vaccination institute. Before leaving office in June, former president Rodrigo Duterte attempted the same but failed in the last Congress.

Despite these seeming thoughtful solutions, we can’t deny that this is still a weak approach to settling the real problem an average Filipino family will face when a family member falls ill. Their financial stability could be in jeopardy with only one hospitalization. Inexpensive and accessible health care is the best solution that can be implemented especially during a time of many health risks.

Health is wealth, but in the Philippines, without wealth, you can’t afford health. The president’s solutions remain as “band-aid solutions” and “anti-poor.” There is still a significant gap in health outcomes between the wealthy minority and the poor majority. The nation requires universal healthcare (UHC). This is essential in order to lower Filipino families’ medical expenses. The government will shoulder the fees, and a higher recovery will be anticipated. The then forgotten Kalusugan Pangkalahatan of DOH shall be revived and reenvisioned to provide UHC adapt to our health crisis and shrink the growing gap between the rich and the poor in health outcomes.

Furthermore, if the new administration is sincere in its promises to alleviate our health situation, it should also consider increasing the salaries and adding more benefits to our healthcare professionals. The plan to bring medical assistance closer to the rural areas is also promising but how it will be done is still a blurry picture. 

Overall, the president made multiple bold promises without concrete plans for implementation.  Will these resolutions be cast in cement or shoved under the rug? Given his lackluster track record as a public servant, these “solutions” may only be political placebos to regain the public's trust. The healthcare system will collapse if the situation is not resolved, therefore Marcos Jr. has a huge hole to fill in the nation's health sector.


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After the first State of the Nation Address (SONA), the Explained PH Opinion Desk shares a series of columns tackling the important areas of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s speech, including the necessary points that he did not mention. 

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