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June 19, 2012


Health information has always been vital to the health sector. As a pillar of health systems, regular and accurate data gathering is where we need to invest heavily in the years to come. We need real time health statistics that can guide us in making crucial decisions as we reform our healthcare system. As you all may know, in the last decades, we have been plagued with problematic reporting of maternal, neonatal and child deaths.

This afternoon, the National Statistics Office (NSO) will be presenting the results of the 2011 Family Health Survey. We have been informed beforehand of the results and, if I may pre-empt our presentors on some points, there is much reason to be distressed at some findings, numbers which I had been asking for when I started my term as Secretary of Health two years ago.

The FHS results show that maternal deaths increased from 162 to 221 per 100,000 live births from 2006 to 2010. Put simply, an estimated 11 women die each day from highly preventable complications arising from pregnancy and childbirth. Indeed, the cruelest irony is that women are dying as they are giving life. I understand that NSO Chief of Demographic and Social Statistics Director Benedicta Yabut will explain further the maternal and child health figures on the NSO survey from a 5 year period covering 2006-2010, which was surveyed last year, 2011.

These maternal deaths and complications are today readily preventable only if we can provide every up-coming mother with access to: (1) modern family planning services to prevent unwanted pregnancies; (2) prenatal care to improve maternal nutrition and promote early detection of complications; (3) facilities capable of safe delivery and handling of maternal emergencies, and (4) postpartum care to prevent and address complications after delivery.

Since the beginning of the Aquino administration, when I took over the helm of the DOH, we have been continuously admonished that we will not attain our MDG 5 target, and mind you, that was in 2010 but I had to base my numbers on data reported four years earlier, that is data measured five years ago in 2006!

Admittedly, the Philippines has a high unmet need for all our public health services particularly owing to limited resources and failure of previous health programs to reach a large segment of the population. In 2008, it was reported that of 6 million Filipino women, 2 million of which belong to the poor, have unmet need for family planning services.

At the same time, decades of underinvestment in our health facilities have resulted to limited access to clinics and hospitals that are often overcrowded, in poor physical state and lacked modern equipment. Funding for facilities upgrading started to trickle in only in 2010 and its implementation today is being challenged by our capacity to handle the sudden surge of transactions in the health reforms we are pursuing.

Moreover, inadequate financial risk protection from the National Health Insurance Program (NHIP) despite an ambitious law in 1995, has likewise aggravated the situation. Prior to 2010, 4.89 M out of the 5.3 M poorest Filipino households, or about 20-25 million Filipinos have not yet been enrolled in PhilHealth.

The decentralization of health services has also led to a fragmented system of financing and delivering services, such that while many local health systems have improved, the variation of health system performance across provinces and localities has also widened.

At this juncture, let us not forget that the 2011 Family Health Survey is not just about maternal mortality ratio. Neonatal, child and adolescent health are also included in this survey. There are however several heart-warming successes that deserve our attention. It is worth noting that child mortality has declined from 32 to 30 per 1,000 live births. This shows that the Philippines is on track in meeting MDG Goal 4. This can be attributed to the sustained efforts at child mortality reduction such as the national implementation of programs of vaccinations and control of some infectious diseases.

The real challenge today is whether we can do what needs to be done in order to arrest if not reverse the trend in terms of our ability to: (1) Deliver and raise program effectiveness of priority public health programs; (2) Upgrade our facilities in time to serve the poor when they fall ill; and (3) Effectively apply national government subsidies so that the poor are effectively enrolled to PhilHealth and are able to access health care. These necessary program improvements also need to be implemented in a way that will result to significant changes the next time NSO runs another such survey before the term of Pres. Aquino ends in 2016.

The number of maternal deaths being reported today also gives us the much needed push to pass critical legislation in support of reproductive health, the amendment of the midwifery and other health professions laws that will allow the provision of critical maternal health services to be provided by other health workers, and the need to consolidate the devolved health system at the province level in order to address the structural barriers that hinders the implementation of our universal health care program.

The DOH launched Kalusugan Pangkalahatan in 2010 as the vehicle to reduce maternal deaths and reform our health system. While the KP directions and strategies we are pursuing are sound and based on best available evidence, we need a more frequent and on-time information to guide us as we implement our reform agenda.

It is therefore in this light that we take this afternoon’s presentation by the NSO regarding the FHS 2011 data gathered in 2010 with much anticipation. This will further guide us to review our list of priority areas, set new performance targets and review estimates on how much more resources are needed to meet this bigger challenge of aggressively reducing maternal deaths.

With the release of the 2011 Family Health Survey results we now know where we were as regards maternal and child health when the Aquino administration started and we will know where we will be in the next few years if we don’t do things differently. It is clear that the health outcomes for our women, our mothers especially be given our utmost attention. I therefore ask you to support us in our reforms we have initiated, imbedded in our program of Kalusugan Pangkalahatan. Help us lead the way for better health for our mothers and our children.

Thank you and good day!