By Kristan Jela Tambio, Helena Lagon Alvior, Pura Angela Co, Maria Eufemia Yap, Mary Camille Samson, and Rosario Dizon
As the Philippines continues its progress towards fully implementing its Universal Health Care (UHC) Law (RA 11223), it is crucial to harness ground-level insights and best practices that can be shared across the different provinces and municipalities in the country. ThinkWell Philippines and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) recently supported the Department of Health (DOH) Western Visayas Regional Office to organize and facilitate the first regional UHC Summit on July 12, 2023. It was followed by the two-day Learning Forum, which fostered further learning exchange on the progress of the technical, managerial, and financial integration across the province-wide and city-wide health systems in the Western Visayas Region.
The Western Visayas Region is currently the first region in the country where all six provinces and two highly urbanized cities have committed to restructuring their health systems according to the mandates in the law. This ensures that there is a region-wide effort on local health systems integration. In his opening statement, Regional Director Dr. Adriano P. Suba-an said, “Your presence here is a testament that we are on the right track towards the achievement of the UHC with inclusivity, creativity, and purposive expansion of medical coverage and reach.”
The summit was designed to celebrate gains and acknowledge and address the challenges the different local government units have faced during the past three years of implementation. The first panel focused on the accomplishments achieved by individuals within the local health offices and government units. In contrast, the second panel, composed of a different set of local chief executives (LCEs), provincial health officers, and municipal health officers, recounted significant milestones and hurdles on several topics, such as the stewardship of province-wide health systems, comprehensiveness of the primary care package and health care provider networks, human resources for health, and health financing (particularly the special health fund and frontload support mechanisms). The provinces also showcased their achievements in the Key Result Areas of the UHC Local Health Systems Maturity Level via a gallery walk during the event. Summit participants had the chance to ask provincial representatives how they progressed in their Key Result Areas and share their insights and experiences.
Several stakeholders shared key insights and ideas to strengthen the implementation of the UHC Law. Mayor Irene Montilla of Isabela, Negros Occidental advocated for allocating a minimum of 15% of the budget of local government units for health care as a tangible commitment of local chief executives towards health and health equity within the community. Furthermore, she underscored the necessity of working as a cohesive local health system, as the rural health unit cannot operate in isolation. Dr. Leslie Anne Luces-Sedillo of Aklan highlighted the significance of a transdisciplinary approach, the pivotal roles played by organizations like the Association of Municipal Health Officers of the Philippines, the LCE’s ownership of the UHC principles, and the importance of fostering collaboration at the grassroots level. Dr. Luces-Sedillo emphasized the finance team’s indispensable involvement in ensuring the local health care system’s financial sustainability. Dr. Sheila Gumabong of Guimaras reiterated how creating legal instruments fostered trust and collaboration by providing clarity of shared responsibility among key stakeholders such as local health offices, LCEs, hospital and facility heads, and private sector stakeholders.
The speakers also called for improvements and efficiency in the system. Current guidelines in the special health fund sandbox require an escrow or buffer fund to secure frontloading of funds from PhilHealth. This may tie up and render a significant portion of the local government units’ funds unusable especially for provinces with very limited fiscal space, prompting Governor Joaquin Carlos Rahman Nava of the Province of Guimaras to call for a more streamlined and cost-effective way of acquiring and utilizing the frontloaded money in the special health fund. Additionally, Dr. Maria Socorro Quiñon from Iloilo Province encouraged service providers to place prime importance on their financial sustainability and the integrity of their services by clarifying standards of care at each level, especially the primary care level.
The event ended with a ceremony celebrating the commitments of health teams and stakeholders, such as the local government units, civil society organizations, and non-governmental organizations, to work towards UHC, focusing on essential lessons and implementation advancements. In the words of Regional Director Suba-an, “Indeed, we have shown and proved to the rest of the regions in the country that here in Western Visayas, walang maiiwan (no one gets left behind). In our pursuit of UHC, everyone is on board, and no one will ever be left behind. Padayon kita sa paghugpong agud ang UHC nga handum, aton maagom (Let’s continue to unite so that we can achieve the UHC that we want).”
In the two-day Learning Forum that followed, ThinkWell’s partner provinces, Antique and Guimaras, provided significant contributions on technical and financial integration as they discussed the unification of care pathways design within a province-wide health system and health care provider networks, the development of a referral manual within the care system, analysis of referral form data, setting up the special health fund, and the KONSULTA sandbox experience. ThinkWell and ADB will publish learning from the Learning Forum to provide insights to the DOH and other regions as efforts toward full UHC implementation continue.
We want to extend our deepest gratitude to the following individuals who were also present at the UHC Summit:
- DOH Western Visayas Regional Office: Dr. Mary Pauline Angelique C. Gestosani, Chief of RLED, and Dr. Mary Joy D. Castroverde, Head of HSIMEC
- Provincial Health Officers: Dr. Leoncio Abiera, Jr. from Antique Province, and Dr. Ramon Alex Nolasco from Capiz Province
- Municipal Health Officers: Dr. Christian Earvin Bondoc from Igbaras, Iloilo; Dr. Melba Billones from San Jose, Antique; and Dr. Uldarico Babayen-on, Jr. from Sebaste, Antique
- Development Partners: ReachHealth and the World Health Organization