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Quality healthcare for Filipinos

The most important concern for Filipinos, at least at the personal level, is staying healthy and avoiding illnesses.

This was one of the findings of a Pulse Asia survey conducted last December and released this year.

The survey revealed that nearly 2 out of 3 Filipinos (63%) consider their health as the most urgent personal concern.

Included in the list of top personal issues for Filipinos are having a secure and well-paying job (44%), finishing schooling or providing schooling for one’s children (41%), and having enough to eat on a daily basis (41%).

I find the survey result very interesting even though at first glance they might simply confirm what we already know.

For instance, it shows that Filipinos are not just worried about getting jobs, they want good quality jobs, i.e., “secure and well-paying jobs.” The implication is that while we typically focus on the unemployment rate, we should also look at underemployment and integrate in our development plans the need to create good quality jobs for our people.

The survey results also point to the sad fact that while economic fundamentals are stable and that both the Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) surveys show a decline in self-rated poverty and hunger (the official government data also show the same downward trend in poverty incidence), 41% of our people still worry about getting food on the table on a daily basis.

I can tell you how terrible that feels. At a very young age, I understood the anxiety and the feeling of helplessness of not knowing if you would have enough food on the table. I can tell you that that is doubly hard for parents who always saw themselves as providers.

I remember that sometimes our big family would get by eating steamed rice and Purico. To those who are too young or too rich to remember, Purico was a popular brand of lard which we would mix with rice and a little salt. I actually miss that meal.

But what I want to discuss is the survey result showing that health is the overriding concern for Filipinos. Come to think of it, all of these concerns affect one’s health. If you constantly worry about your children’s tuition, your job security and feeding your family then it will have a negative effect on your health.

Several indicators demonstrate to us that despite some improvement, there is still a lot to be done before we can have an accessible, high quality healthcare system.

Statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Department of Health (DoH) showed that our maternal mortality rate stood at 204 deaths per 100,000 live births as of 2015. This was too high considering the global target of the Millennium Development Goals of 52 deaths per 100,000.

The same WHO and DoH data also reveal that 75,000 children (those below 5 years old) die each year. This is simply unacceptable. Whatever the socioeconomic standing, mother and child should have access to quality healthcare. This is something that a society needs to provide its citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

Related to this issue is the need to build more quality and accessible health care facilities. Based on DoH data as of 2009, the Philippines has a total of 94,199 hospital beds which translates to a population rate of 1.04 per 1,000.

The WHO recommendation is 20 hospital beds per 10,000 population.

But when you disaggregate the data in terms of region, then you see the real disparity. The National Capital Region (NCR) has a rate of 2.47 hospital beds per 1,000 population while the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) only has 586 beds or a measly 0.17 beds per 1,000 population rate. Caraga has 0.70/1,000; Bicol Region 0.76/1,000, all below the standard.

This is one of the reasons why in my previous column I expressed my support to the efforts of the Duterte administration to decentralize development to the province and give more powers to local governments. I am also inclined to agree with the President’s statement that federalism is the key to peace and development in Mindanao.

The DoH data also show that about 60% of all hospitals in the country are privately owned. Now, I believe that healthcare is primarily a function of the state. It is the duty of the state to, in the words of the 1987 Constitution, “protect and promote the right to health of the people…” But as an entrepreneur, I also value the role of the private sector in providing healthcare. Remember, the private sector employs over 70% of all health professionals in the country.

It is in this spirit that my company has embarked on providing healthcare by entering into an agreement with UNIMED, an association of doctors, to initially operate the first of about a dozen health facilities in the country.

When we made the announcement last year, I said that we will operate the facility under Vitacare UNIMED Hospital and Medical Center, the first branch of which will be in the Vista Land & Lifescapes, Inc.’s property in Daang Hari in Las Piñas City.

It is a vision that not just expands our business enterprise but more importantly provides our people with high quality healthcare service. This is a way in which business fulfills its role in nation building by helping government in its huge task of improving a healthcare system that would benefit all Filipinos and improve their quality of life.

(For comments/feeback email to:mbv.secretariat@gmail or visit www.mannyvillar.com.ph.) (Senator Manny Villar)

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