Investing in health

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The 2022 presidential race is a crowded one, with at least five candidates seeking the highest position of the land the son of the late dictator, a boxing champion, a former police chief and senator, a movie star-turned-city mayor and the country’s vice-president.

Whoever wins will have an extremely difficult time steering the country out of this debilitating pandemic and toward economic recovery.

But that’s not enough. The next president must also make sure the government invests more in healthcare, especially preventive healthcare. There must be genuine universal healthcare for everyone and a system that is efficient enough for citizens to trust it and be confident about it.

Economic prosperity

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how vital health is to our shared economic prosperity.

Over the past year-and-a-half, the onslaught of COVID-19 has led to national lockdowns, which turned our lives upside down.

It has led to a slowdown in economic activities, massive job losses and it has paralyzed industrial production.

This has caused the global economy to decline 3.3 percent in 2020.

It is, therefore, important for our next president to ensure that the government will really make meaningful investments in healthcare to help us become better prepared when something as damaging as a global health pandemic breaks out again.

Preventive healthcare

I had a chat recently with Dorthe Mikkelsen, Asia Pacific president of pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD). She also underscored the role of public-private partnerships in ensuring that healthcare remains accessible at a time of budgetary constraints.

She believes healthcare needs to be recognized as a priority for national development and be treated as an investment, not a cost.

“Investing in health is really about investing broadly – healthcare is key to the economic prosperity of a country,” she says.

Thus, Mikkelsen believes it would really be good for the Philippines to ensure sustainability funding and trust in public and private partnerships.

“Healthcare systems must be based on sustaining funding for patients, employers, government, and hospitals,” she says.

Important areas are screening programs and disease awareness initiatives to reduce hospitalization and length of recovery.

I certainly agree with her. Governments like ours must also ensure access to innovative drugs and treatments.

I hope we’ve learned enough from COVID-19 to realize the importance of having preventive healthcare access for everyone.

Non-communicable diseases

Mikkelsen says that while COVID-19 remains in the spotlight, we should be equally cognizant that this pandemic has also had a profound and far-reaching negative impact on other healthcare challenges, specifically on non-communicable diseases.

The result is that whatever public health gains we’ve made in recent years have been ceded.

As Mikkelsen pointed out, critical care has been delayed and routine vaccinations and health screenings for cancer and other chronic conditions have been disrupted.

“This should not be so. Attention and investment in routine care should continue,” she says.

Medical innovation

Science has already laid the foundation for medical innovation such as vaccines. Imagine where we would still be now if there are still no vaccines against COVID-19?

But innovation does not end only as a scientific pursuit. The value of scientific innovation can only be fully realized when patients experience the full benefit of such medical innovations, Mikkelsen says. I agree.

On the part of MSD, the company is also investing in research to ascertain whether innovative treatments for cancer deliver clinical and economic benefits to patients and their communities.

Partnership for sustainable financing and access.

In all, Mikkelsen believes that governments and the healthcare industry must work together on needed reforms and policy changes to accelerate and sustain access to important healthcare innovations and interventions for all patients.

She laments that there are preventable diseases such as HPV and cancer that remain leading causes of deaths in the Asia Pacific region for instance.

“There are many diseases that can be prevented by vaccines,” she says.

Commenting on the Philippines, she said it was encouraging that the Department of Health’s campaign to increase confidence on vaccines is working.

This should go far beyond COVID-19, as well as for other vaccine preventable diseases, including HPV.

On the part of MSD, Mikkelsen says it continues to ensure that its products are affordable through partnerships with stakeholders, governments, and patient advocacy groups.

“The time really is now. It is important for the Philippine government to invest in healthcare for the country,” she says.

This, I believe will have a greater chance of happening if we choose the right leaders next year.



Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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