SONA’s health care agenda missed integrated cancer control

Atty. Katrina Clemente-Lua, Executive Director of the Stratbase ADR Institute

During the President’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA), he raised a number of issues, that span political and economic reforms.

The SONA seemed to be a hodge-podge report of events already well known to the Filipino people instead of a more strategic summary of his achievements and plans in the coming years.

Among the political issues raised that are not new including the government’s war on drugs; passage of the Ease of Doing Business Act; due signing of the enrolled bill of the Bangsamoro Basic Law; and Philippines’ independent foreign policy, among others.

On environmental issues, the President maintained the administration’s agenda in attaining a holistic and sustainable management of land resources.

On socioeconomic issues, President mentioned his campaign to end contractualization; entry of a third major player in the telecommunications industry; increase of salary of the military and police force; and passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law, among others.

Disappointingly, the President failed to substantiate these so-called accomplishments if only to put some new spice into it. Equally so, the President only passed through the gut issue of inflation now affecting all Filipino consumers. Disturbing is his twit on human rights versus human life to further rationalize the violence of his relentless war on drugs.

One of the few points that the President laid out was the health care system. President Duterte emphasized the need to protect its citizens from financial health risks. He had promised to provide affordable health care to every Filipino.

In what seemed to be a fresh take on the issue, he had asked the agencies to streamline processes for financial assistance. More than financial assistance, access to affordable and quality health care can only be achieved through the joint efforts of the public and private sectors.

Aside from institutionalizing the unified implementation of the No Balance Billing Policy, the President has urged the Congress for its speedy passage of the Universal Health Care Bill. As it is now, delivery of health care has indeed been fragmented, as observed by the President. While a number of investors has ventured into health systems, there remains resource gaps.

The President likewise talked about institutionalizing primary health care as a prerequisite to accessing a higher level of health care. While the Universal Health Care Bill is aimed at providing primary, preventive, curative, palliative and rehabilitative care, patients of debilitating illnesses deserve a higher level of health care. One such debilitating illness is cancer, which has alarmingly affecting more and more Filipinos and is now the third highest cause of death in the country.

In addition to the Universal Health Care Bill, the President and his health policy advisers overlooked a landmark legislation now pending in Congress. Since the President is already mindful of the urgency and importance of providing holistic approach to health care, a big and very positive surprise would have been to prioritize a long neglected health issue that cuts through the whole political and economic spectrum of Philippine society. The bill already has the support of more than 200 members of the House of Representatives and a majority of the Senate and will soon be up for second reading.

At one point, the President stated that actions will be taken that are of “greatest good” to the “greatest number of people.” Health care reform including an integrated response to cancer control is certainly a legacy that will directly benefit all Filipinos and if implemented well, will be remembered for generations.

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