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Welcome Address Secretary ENRIQUE T. ONA WHO- Western Pacific Region Program Managers Meeting

February 13, 2012


DR. SHIN YOUNG-SOO, Regional Director, WHO-Western Pacific Region



DR. ALBERTO ROMULADEZ, JR. President, Culion Foundation



Good morning!!!

Let me extend a warm welcome to all of you and perhaps greet you a Happy Valentine’s Day in advance. We are very grateful for the opportunity to host you again for the 3-day Program Managers meeting which will pave the new road map for leprosy control beyond 2012. The first time it was held here was in November 2005 when we drafted the Global Leprosy Program Strategies and Guidelines 2006-2010 to reduce the burden of leprosy. Significant strides have been achieved since.

Leprosy is not the same public health problem it was years ago when it ravaged populations in the Philippines and in other countries in the region. Advances in medicine have paved the way for the possibility of the adequate control of this disease. Custodial care is no longer needed and treatment is very effective in curing the disease.

We have had considerable success here in the Philippines in combating leprosy and I’m sure you can say the same in your country. In 1986, there were over 38,000 leprosy patients in the country with a prevalence rate of 7.2 per 10,000 Filipinos. Now, it’s down to around 2,000 yearly, with a prevalence rate of 0.31 per 10,000 and it can still be found in pockets of areas in our county. We have to be thankful to our partners, the SASAKAWA Foundation and other partners in the private sector who aided us in improving access to Multiple Drug Therapy, particularly for the poor whose conditions make them more vulnerable to this disease.

Improving access of the poor and marginalized segments of the population to adequate health services is an important issue that is being discussed in the Philippines today and in the rest of the world.  In fact, a few weeks back, I was in Thailand to attend the Prince Mahidol Award Conference on universal health coverage. I am very happy to note that the Philippine government’s effort towards achieving universal coverage is being recognized as an inspiration by countries seeking to achieve similar reforms.

Our government’s health agenda is very mindful of the plight of the poorest of the poor families in the Philippines. Kalusugan Pangkalahatan or universal health care is focused on reforms on health financing systems to guarantee that everyone has access to basic and essential health services. We have focused on strengthening the implementation of the National Health Insurance Program to ensure the coverage of the population, especially the poor, and enhance the benefits of all its members.  Likewise, we are also pursuing improvements in the country’s government health facilities, from the primary care facilities to the more advanced hospitals. We are also scaling up public health interventions so that vaccines and other essential services reach the poor in the far flung communities.

The National Leprosy Control Program is part of this overall objective. We have begun efforts to make its efforts consistent with this vision of Kalusugan Pangkalahatan.  We are now into the post- elimination era just like most countries in the Western Pacific Region. Having conducted a very successful elimination program in the past, leprosy is no longer a public health problem at the national level. But as was mentioned earlier, leprosy is actually unfinished business, as was just mentioned here by Dr. Shin Young-Soo. 

Research studies on operational and epidemiological researches were made, including the assessment of the control program in 2009 and 2010 respectively, to determine the factors why the country continues to record multi-bacillary cases both in adults and children at 93.92%, the highest in the region. Urgent attention is needed in improving health information systems to guide planning and implementation of health programs. This is particularly true in pockets where we see transmission of the disease.  

This will be our focus. We will intensify active case finding and ensure availability of treatment for the patients in these pockets with continued disease burden. I just recently discussed with DSWD how patients still living in our sanitaria can be assisted to go back to their normal community life. We will continue working with the private sector, non-governmental organizations, and academe in pursuing meaningful initiatives so that we will be able to control this disease once and for all.   

 We hope that this gathering that pools together the great minds in leprosy control, could be a venue for fruitful discussions that would enable all of us to finally give the big push to further decrease the burden of leprosy.

Thank you very much and I hope you enjoy your stay in our country. As they say here with our new tourism slogan, “it’s more fun in the Philippines.”