Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute
Latest data from the Department of Finance show that the Philippines has sufficient funds to vaccinate 70 percent of the country’s population, given the number of loans it has obtained from various foreign sources. Still, despite the huge budget to fund the government’s COVID-19 response, the country has continued to lag behind neighboring countries in terms of its vaccination program. Poor infrastructure, inadequate transportation, and the lack of coordination between government agencies have hampered the overall implementation of the government’s vaccination rollout.
Late last month, the Department of Health (DOH) said that the country was averaging around 170,000 jabs administered per day, which is not even half of the government’s target of 500,000 a day to have about 50 million individuals vaccinated by the end of this year. Even if that target is reached, we will still be 20 million short of the goal of inoculating 70 million individuals to achieve herd immunity for the country.
To boost the ongoing efforts, the private sector recently launched the Ingat Angat Bakuna Lahat program, which involves 25 private hospitals from five top health care providers. Under the said program, Ayala Healthcare Holdings Inc. (AC Health), Metro Pacific Hospitals Holdings Inc., Mount Grace Hospitals Inc., St. Luke’s Medical Center, and The Medical City will help administer 5,000 jabs daily for the next 30 days.
This private sector campaign, spearheaded by the Philippine Disaster Resilience Foundation and 13 other corporations, not only directly engages in the vaccine rollout, but also aims to raise greater awareness of and confidence in the benefits of vaccination, in the face of the high vaccine hesitancy among the populace. The innovative and collaborative undertaking is another manifestation of the private sector’s thrust to augment public service.
The Philippine government must recognize the importance of harnessing other stakeholders in order to effectively maintain a balance between public health and economic recovery. As it is, the pandemic has only magnified the gaps in the country’s health information systems and evidence-based decision-making.
In a recent virtual town hall discussion on health conducted by the Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute, Dr. Enrique Tayag, director of the Knowledge Management and Information Technology Service of the DOH, recognized the importance of eHealth, or the increasing move toward digital health solutions in improving health systems through logistics and human resources management, shared electronic health records, and telemedicine.
The systematic digitalization of medical processes has been proven to greatly improve the cost efficiency and quality of services. The eventual savings may then be rechanneled to expand the country’s health insurance benefits for the majority of the population who cannot afford to pay for their medical needs.
Digitally powered solutions will resolve the fragmentation issues in the country’s health system. A cohesive, cost-efficient, transparent, and easily accessible health care system can be realized by investing in and properly deploying the right digital technologies. But that digital transformation will need a paradigm shift that embraces the best innovative technologies available, and that welcomes disruptive policies designed to be inclusive and patient-centric.
As we are all health stakeholders, we must proactively participate and collaborate in a united drive to build a responsive and inclusive health care system. The huge contributions of private sector interventions in the government’s COVID-19 response should be encouraged and sustained as part of a synergistic partnership toward building preparedness and resilience against not just this pandemic, but other national crises as well. Realizing the vision of the Universal Health Care Act will require an all-of-society commitment.
This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.