Health not top of their mind

BARELY a month and a half before the presidential elections, it is discomforting that it seems none of the presidential candidates have, as top-of-their-mind, their respective health agenda.

They keep on talking about their economic agenda, their commitment to curb graft and corruption, address drugs, crime, and the traffic problem; but no one so far would voluntarily expound on their programs to boost healthcare delivery, fill in the public health gaps, enforce tobacco control and other plans to make sure public health is protected and enhanced.

When prodded, they would say one-liners about making healthcare delivery inclusive for all Filipinos, rich and poor alike – elegant motherhood statements; but we would have wanted to hear specifics and get an impression that they really consider providing all Filipinos access to quality healthcare a priority should they become the next president of our country.

In sharp contrast to their one-liners on health, they would lengthily articulate their vision to make the country grow at an equal if not better rate than many of our progressive Asian neighbors; or rid the country of its perennial banes—drugs, crime, graft and corruption, monstrous traffic jams. The stark difference in the enthusiasm to expound on the health vis-à-vis the other issues does not augur well at this point for the country’s healthcare prospects in the next six years.

With the current mindset of priorities of the candidates, they give us the impression that their respective health agendas are like a sunken ship that need to be resurfaced. The people, especially those who experience serious challenges in maintaining their health, would love to hear their plans in addressing the various healthcare gaps in the country, to ensure that their PhilHealth cards will be truly meaningful, and backed up by all the necessary manpower and infrastructures that are good and sufficient enough for more than a hundred million Filipinos.

We hope all our presidential aspirants would realize and agree that we can never have sustained economic progress unless we sort out our healthcare issues first. All diseases, especially chronic diseases, which require long-term or lifelong treatment and cause repeated hospitalizations, impose a huge toll on the country’s financial resources. Productivity, from a population perspective, will never be at its optimum to achieve the desired growth they enthusiastically envision, unless we have a generally healthy nation.

The presidential candidates should perhaps ask their assistants to scan the literature and gather factual, real-world data that could convince them of how investments in health (health literacy, health promotion, population control) can actually translate to surplus currency that can be channeled to other programs for national development.

It has been shown in other developed and developing countries that when a country’s government invests sufficiently to attain a high rate of health literacy, it is likely to lead to positive health-promoting behaviors that translate into favorable long-term health outcomes, specifically in reducing maternal and infant illnesses and deaths, and reducing the incidences of prevalent diseases.

Therefore, the good and wise leader is one who considers prioritizing health promotion and other public health programs as a worthwhile investment and not an additional pricey expense that should only be addressed if one has surplus budget. Happy will be the President who, after his/her term ends, finds a strong sense of fulfillment that he/she has effectively bridged the gaps to make sure that every Filipino, even those in far-flung areas, has adequate access to quality healthcare.

Vital Signs Issue 85 Vol. 4, March 1-31 2016