Bea Santina

A year has passed since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr vowed to address the issues piling up in the health sector; and yet after a year, no change is visible. In this year’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), he made another set of promises regarding our healthcare. Will these promises be fulfilled, or will they be set in stone?

Cartoon by Jovic Bucag Romero 

Accessible healthcare services and affordable medicines

In his first SONA, Marcos made the promise of providing accessible healthcare and affordable medication, stating, “Beyond the issues the pandemic has brought the need for a stronger healthcare system is self-evident; we must bring medical services to the people and not wait for them to come to our hospitals and healthcare centers.”

President Marcos promised the construction of multiple healthcare facilities specializing in heart, kidney, cancer, and pediatrics.  Its objective is to address the primary health needs of the poor.

While this is a good idea at best, the pre-existing medical facilities in rural areas are still lacking machinery, and even those in urban areas are still yet to embrace digitalization and advancements in medicine.

A staggering 16.7% of Filipinos live under the poverty line, as per Asian Development Bank. They are unable to access proper health care due to our plummeting economy and prevalent joblessness. 

Medical reinforcements are expensive in the country, and even if you can afford them, they are still subpar, and you’ll have to wait ‘til your deathbed due to the number of patients in public hospitals.

Rather than spending money to add more hospitals, we must improve the ones that are already existing to make healthcare more efficient and accessible. The project is still a long shot to the finish line, and as of now, many Filipinos have one foot down in their graves as the current healthcare system is inefficient.

Though an old project, President Marcos also mentioned that the Konsulta Package of PhilHeath will be utilized moving forward. "In PhilHealth's improved Konsulta Package, 21 types of drugs and 13 laboratory services will be provided for free.... In order to help patients even more, we have increased the previous 90 free dialysis sessions to 156. Compatriots, dialysis is now free for most Filipinos.”

Despite his promises, healthcare workers and the community assert that nothing has changed, the healthcare system remains inaccessible, and medication remains unaffordable. 

Health Emergency Allowance

On Monday, the President declared that the government would finally release the health emergency allowance (HEA) of frontliners during the COVID-19 surge.
“In order to repay the sacrifices made by our health workers in private and public hospitals during the pandemic, their COVID-19 health emergency allowances and other pending benefits will be distributed to them,” said Marcos.

As Marcos lifted the nationwide state of public health emergency, health workers expressed worry that the HEA will no longer be distributed as this allowance only applies to workers during a public health emergency. Still, the government confirmed that it should be continued even after they lifted the declaration. 

These benefits have been delayed for over seven to 12 months, further solidifying the government's lack of importance for healthcare workers.

Readjusting health priorities

After a two-year-long battle with COVID-19, Health Secretary Teodoro Herbosa declares that it is no longer a crisis but now merely a respiratory disease. There are now 5,121 active cases nationwide, a small amount compared to the 4.1 million recorded infections, and 66,000 fatalities.

With the aforementioned, Marcos has declared the following as the new health priorities of the Philippines:
  • Address hunger and nutrition-related issues such as stunting and wasting
  • Catch up on routine vaccinations for children 
  • Suppress the“alarming rise” of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS by ensuring early diagnosis and treatment and ample testing sites and medications
  • Increase the number and capability of public health facilities 
  • Integrate primary care providers and networks for more direct and efficient delivery of services
He also addressed the lack of medical personnel in the country. He assured that the administration is working on it and has been training and distributing medical workers across the country.

This would not have been an issue if only the wages of these workers were higher. They are overworked and underpaid. Their minimum salary is not enough to feed a family. Healthcare workers plea for higher wages and more benefits as they risk their lives daily trying to help sick Filipinos.

The main obstacles to high-quality healthcare in the Philippines are a lack of facilities, staff, and surgical supplies. Half of the population lives in rural areas where there are usually no licensed doctors and inadequate facilities with substandard medical equipment. Will healthcare be improved with the promised “Bagong Pilipinas” or will it be shoved under a rug since it’s no longer the government’s priority since we are not under a health emergency crisis?