“There is no satisfying the need for curative care in our country even if you give a hundred billion in investment. But give a billion to Health Promotion and it will already do a lot in preventing illnesses.”
This was the critique of Dr. Mario Villaverde, Associate Dean of the Ateneo School of Government on the proposal to earmark tobacco taxes for Universal Health Care. Dr. Villaverde said Universal Health Care focuses on disease control and curative health care but looks inadequate on Health Promotion that includes promotive and preventive health care.
According to the former Undersecretary of Health, the biggest proportion of the government’s health budget is used for curative health care that caters to a very small proportion of the population, when in fact curative care is already the end point of a continuum of health services. Investing in promotive and preventive health care is an essential component in fostering a healthy nation. It reduces the costs of curative care, especially for many illness that are expensive to treat and can free up substantial financial resources that can be used to fund other cost-effective health services.
“More than the individual cures, what we need is an intervention at the level of society. Factors of unhealthy lifestyles like unavailability of nutritious food and inefficient tobacco and alcohol control mechanisms contribute largely to the prevalence of diseases in the country. This is because people adapt to the type of environment presented to them,” explained Dr. Villaverde.
The Ottawa Charter defines Health Promotion as “the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their health.”
“Instead of attending to them only when their health has deteriorated, people should be empowered to make healthy choices by providing them an environment that is conducive to healthy lifestyles,” said Dr. Villaverde.
“For example, putting up appropriate infrastructures such as road signs and sidewalks would not only help in avoiding accidents and ensuring road safety; it will also create an environment that is favorable for walking and other physical activities,” he adds.
Other countries like Australia and Thailand have already benefited immensely from Health Promotion programs, like those for alcohol control, healthy diets, physical activity, road safety, and tobacco control, which are funded by “sin” tax revenue.
Article 6 of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control advocates for the use of the income from tobacco excise taxes for Health Promotion programs.
“The impact of Health Promotion is not immediately seen but it is a wise investment. We must assess – what do we really need in this country? What does our healthcare system really need?” challenged Dr. Villaverde.