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Foreign investments in health care urged

Louise Maureen Simeon - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should lure more foreign investments in the healthcare system as the country continues to fall behind in Southeast Asia.

In a discussion paper, state-run think tank Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) argued that the country has long been lagging behind neighboring countries in the region in terms of critical health outcomes and access indicators.

PIDS research fellow Valerie Ulep and research analyst Lyle Casas said this is because public health spending in the Philippines is one of the lowest in Southeast Asia.

According to the World Health Organization, the Philippines spends only about 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on health, which is significantly lower than that of Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia.

Ulep and Casas also said that this is also a reflection of the longstanding challenges in terms of health financing, health service delivery, governance and health human resources.

The COVID-19 pandemic has severely overwhelmed the country’s healthcare system since last year prompting repeated lockdowns to avert its collapse.

To address this, the authors emphasized that the government should attract domestic and foreign investments to finance and close the country’s health infrastructure gap in the medium and long term.

“This can be done by increasing the equity threshold for hospital foreign investments to 100 percent, imposing additional tax breaks for hospital investments, and accelerating investment approvals for health services and medical equipment, among others,” they said.

Data showed that the country needs 400,000 hospital beds to meet the population need for hospital care or about 2.7 beds per 1,000 population.

Securing more investments would also allow additional Filipinos to have timely access to primary healthcare facilities.

Last year, only 50 percent of Filipinos were able to access primary health care within the standard time frame set by the government, which is 30 minutes.

In terms of preparedness for public health emergencies, the Philippines also received an average score of 53 percent from WHO’s International Health Regulations, making the country one of the poorest performing nations in the region.

Apart from investment, Ulep and Casas called on the government to adopt digital reforms in providing health services through the eHealth Systems and Services Bill to serve as the regulatory framework and to institutionalize telemedicine.

The authors likewise stressed the need to implement robust domestic reforms to liberalize the country for cross-border health integration.

“Pushing for regional health integration will be relevant to the country’s pursuit of universal health care, and openness to regional integration may be a way for the domestic system to be resilient in facing disasters,” they said.

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