The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic exposed the “underfunded” and “fragile” Philippine health care system, according to a University of the Philippines Executive Vice President and health expert Dr. Teodoro “Ted” Herbosa.
During the maiden airing of Koffee Klatch on Saturday, April 24, hosted by Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) Undersecretary Jacinto “Jing” Paras, a former congressman from Negros Oriental, and veteran journalist Adolfo “Ado” Paglinawan, Teodoro said he has presented solutions to the government when he was health undersecretary.
In anticipation of the worsening cases, his proposals would have made the Philippines “more prepared to deal with pandemics, like setting up a vaccine manufacturing facility”.
Herbosa also said he agrees with the view of former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Ernesto Pernia that the government should invest more for the country’s public health care system.
“Our government and the past governments have underfunded the health system… actually that is our basic problem,” Herbosa said, adding that the COVID-19 pandemic “exposed gaps in health infrastructure and system.”
He said that at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, he submitted a proposal to Health Secretary Francisco Duque to build the 700-bed Philippine General Hospital unit in Diliman, Quezon City under the Duterte administration’s Build Build Build program.
Herbosa even recommended that the PGH unit in Diliman be built with Chinese expertise, as the Chinese were able to build hospitals for its COVID-19 patients in less than two weeks.
However, Herbosa’s proposal for the PGH Diliman unit did not get any immediate response from Duque.
Hopefully, this would be undertaken through a private-public partnership this year, he added.
“When was the last time the government built a big hospital? I mean the national government? You will have to look all the way back at the Marcos time,” he said, adding that the current health system of the Philippines is “fragile.”
Herbosa said he agrees with Pernia’s view that the government should treat fund allocations for the health system as investments and not as an expense, of which the latter is the traditional view of the government’s finance and budget officials.
Investing in Health
“Pernia was right. Health is an investment, it is not an expense.
“If we invest in the health in our people, our people will become economically productive,” he added.
Pernia reportedly resigned from the Duterte administration at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year due to “differences in development principles,” according to Herbosa.
Herbosa, nonetheless, said government hospitals have vastly improved their facilities and services in the past decades, partly due to the additional funds generated from the so-called sin taxes, and the signing into law in 1994 of the National Health Insurance Act.
Before the pandemic, Herbosa, as a DOH undersecretary, also proposed the establishment of molecular laboratories and a vaccine manufacturing facility at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, Muntinlupa City.
“I had two projects when I was DOH undersecretary: vaccine self-sufficiency project and molecular labs,” he said, adding then DOH Secretary Enrique Ona found those projects daunting because of their high cost.
But the Philippines was able to establish at least 300 molecular laboratories from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You must have adequate testing, and if you remember last year, we send our samples all way to Melbourne in Australia, until we set up one lab, which is the RITM. But that is still not enough, so we had to set up more,” Herbosa said.
Over the long term, he said that investments in the country’s public health system should go beyond the polls.
“We need to have a longer vision, I hope our leaders and future leaders will be more long sighted about health and development, health and economics, because what we should do is to look beyond the elections,” Herbosa said. SOVEREIGNPH