On Monday, July 22, 2013, the President of the Philippines, Benigno S. Aquino III, is scheduled to give his fourth State of the Nation Address (SoNA).
Following last year’s SoNA, the proposed budget allocation for the Department of Health had the highest budgetary increase with PhP 56.8 billion, in line with Aquino’s goal of improved health care services. These include universal health care coverage for all Filipinos, the improvement of government hospitals, as well as the construction of new rural health facilities.
“These are welcome developments for the health care system, but a progressive program will not be possible without investing in preventive health care,” according to former Department of Health Secretary, Dr. Esperanza Cabral.
Investing in preventive health care, like Health Promotion (HP), aims to minimize the risk factors people have that increase their chances for Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and lung disease.
“It is alarming that 90% of the Philippine population has at least one risk factor that lead to NCDs. These are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression,” says Dr. Cabral. “Studies show that 6 out of 10 deaths in the Philippines are attributed to NCDs, and 25% of all NCD-related deaths are from people below the age of 60.”
World Health Organization (WHO) studies show that among the Western Pacific countries, 91% of the health fund is spent on curative care, 8% is spent for the prevention of illness, and only one percent is spent on Health Promotion. Like countries in the WPRO, HP in the Philippines remains underfunded.
“A comprehensive Health Promotion approach is necessary to protect health and prevent the onset of risky behaviors and lessen NCDs,” says Princess Nemenzo of WomanHealth. “Insufficient funding severely restricts the strategies in support of HP, such as research, policy advocacy, and community mobilization.”
In Southeast Asia, other countries have already invested in preventative health care to lower their smoking prevalence. The Philippines is lagging behind. Vietnam and Lao have allocated a percent of their tobacco taxes for tobacco control. Thailand has decreased tobacco consumption by 10% over six years thanks to their investment in HP.
“By allotting a percentage of the excise tax revenue for HP, Thailand was able to fund various programs that improved their overall national health,” according to Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo, Project Director of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) Initiative on Tobacco Tax.
“While we have recently increased taxes on tobacco and alcohol, the Philippines overlooked an opportunity when we neglected to allocate part of the sin tax revenue for preventative health care, in order to continue to bring down smoking prevalence and other risk factors for NCDs,” says Irene Reyes, Managing Director of HealthJustice Philippines.
In his speech during last year’s SONA, Aquino referred to investing in preventive health care, “What we want: true, universal, and holistic health care. This begins not in our hospitals, but within each and every household: increased consciousness, routine inoculation, and regular checkups are necessary to keep sickness at bay. Add to this our efforts to ensure that we prevent the illnesses that are in our power to prevent.”
“To our President, we urge you to follow-through on your promise to invest in preventive health care. Only then does the country stand a chance in winning the battle against NCDs,” continues Reyes.