The COVID-19 health crisis has laid bare the vulnerabilities in global health systems. In countries like the Philippines, where millions live below the poverty line, the gaps in the healthcare system are more acutely felt.
In February 2019, the passage of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Law signaled hope for the sector. The UHC Law strengthened efforts of the Department of Health (DOH) and its attached agencies to provide Filipinos access to quality and cost-effective care. The law was quickly put to the test when the pandemic hit, underscoring the urgent need for more resilient health care in the Philippines.
Against this backdrop, Health4All, a coalition that unites healthcare experts and engaged citizens was formed. Health4All opens inroads for collaboratively designing health outcomes for Filipinos, with a focus on providing underprivileged and underserved communities with support and access to better health decisions and opportunities.
Speaking at the Health4All media event, M. Fabrice Fize, Head of Mission and First Counsellor of the Embassy of France in Manila, emphasized that building vaccine confidence as among the coalition’s focus areas is critical in meeting the country’s goals in the fight against vaccine-preventable diseases. “In front of this health crisis, we have to reaffirm our commitment in strengthening the health systems of the most vulnerable countries, with a view of achieving universal health coverage.”, said Mr. Fize. He expressed the strong support of the French Embassy to the coalition Health4All and congratulated its multi-stakeholders and community-based approach.
Fize was joined by a panel of health experts and representatives from the private and public sector. Speakers included Dr. Alfonso Regala, Head, Program Implementation and Outreach Division, Health Promotion Bureau of DOH, Dr. Tina Alberto, Founder, Hope in Me Club; Dr. Dexter Galban, CEO of digital healthcare company Alaga Health; and Mr. Jean-Antoine Zinsou, private sector representative and General Manager of Sanofi Pasteur.
“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,” explained Regala.
Zinsou highlighted the role of the private sector in making healthcare accessible to all. “We believe that this spirit of shared responsibility and mutual concern will drive transformation in our health system,” he said. Echoing the health department’s call to bolster multi-sectoral support for Universal Health Care, he added that “the private sector is committed to supporting the DOH’s efforts to make health for all Filipinos a reality. We look forward to working with the coalition in strengthening our healthcare systems, providing support for healthcare workers and equipping citizens with useful and relevant health information.”
Alberto showcased how community health organizations like the Hope in Me Club, whose roster of volunteers include healthcare workers and patients, bridge the various programs of the DOH to the community through integrated health education programs. She adds that “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.”
Meanwhile, Galban championed young people and SMEs in his presentation. He noted that 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 explained, adding that the Philippines today has the largest generation of young people in history, with over 30 million young people between the ages of 10 to 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.”
Carlos Hechanova, Executive Director for Development of makesense Philippines, the Lead Coordinator of Health4All, stated that “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.”
Health4All’s recently-concluded pilot program, a youth initiative for health literacy, was able to reach 50,000 new advocates, online and offline, through 11 different campaigns. The pilot focused on crucial health areas such as building vaccine confidence in communities. It also responded to health challenges heightened by the pandemic such as elevated strain on mental health, increased risks for patients with lifestyle diseases, and “infodemic” or the overwhelming amount of accurate and inaccurate health information.
To date, the coalition has worked with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM), University of Philippines – 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. Visit http://health4all.makesense.org/ for more details.