Speech of Secretary Enrique T. Ona during the 2010 World Population Day Celebration

July 12, 2010





Edsa Shangrila Plaza , Mandaluyong City

Theme: Everyone Counts



Honorable members of the Diplomatic Corps, my colleagues in government, NGOs and representatives from civil society, other guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning!`

The theme of the World Population Day, “Everyone Counts” strikes at the core and vision of the new Administration to improve and invest in new services and build a Government that will be there for our people when they need it most.

President Benigno Simeon Aquino III or P-NOY, from the time of the campaign until his proclamation, swore to be a servant-leader for the Filipino people.  As members of his Cabinet, we therefore live by that principle --- that we are here to serve everyone. Not just the influential few, not just the majority but each and every Filipino. While everyone counts on our government, the government is also counting on everyone to do his or her part in our mission to rebuild the nation.

I have served the health sector in the periphery for many years as the Executive Director of the National Kidney and Transplant Institute before I became Secretary of Health.  I have worked with my professional colleagues in government as a surgeon and clinician with the hundreds of health personnel and staff committed to bring quality service to our patients despite hardships and amid severe limitations on what government can provide.I know that the task and the gaps we need to address in the health sector are daunting. 

I know the journey that we have to take to ensure that our people enjoy good health and that we do this as effectively and efficiently as possible while continuing to raise standards.  Our people, no doubt, deserve no less than the best from Government.

But the President and all of us in his Cabinet believe that to get the clear picture of the problems we need to face, we have to get accurate data and information.  In almost all the Departments of Government, there are data gaps especially in health.  On the other hand, the information that we do have does not paint a good picture of our current health situation --- unfair and inequitable access to health care that leaves the poor behind; low overall government spending on health; high out-of-pocket spending that impoverishes thousands of Filipino families; persisting high maternal and newborn deaths that are among the highest in the Southeast Asian region; high fertility rates among our poorest women; the continuing challenge of infectious diseases like TB, dengue and malaria; emerging diseases like HIV/AIDS and the interlocking crisis of non-communicable diseases.

Ladies and gentlemen, with new leadership comes an opportunity for betterment and change.  As our President has set a bold and definite direction for ‘service above all’ and good governance, so too, must we exact the same from the entire health sector. 

Now is the right time to fulfil the mandate of Universal Health Care for all Filipinos.  We must focus on this single national healthcare strategy over the next three years as the President has said by rapidly expanding coverage of our poor and the near-poor informal sector. We must provide sufficient protection for Filipino families against the rising costs of healthcare.  This means our government will have to spend big to expand and enhance Philhealth benefits for both in-patient and outpatient health services.   But then, we must also spend money more wisely for services that truly improve outcomes and deliver quality care for our patients.

We MUST also better promote personal responsibility and put the decisions on healthcare in the hands of our people and the public. Those who are covered by Philhealth must know their entitlements and responsibilities.  And those who can afford to pay must pay while the government takes care of the real poor with targeted subsidies.

Universal health care is a tall order for this Administration considering the challenges that we will have to face now and into the future.  Thus, to ensure that universal health care happens in the next three years, we shall take new and creative approaches that will address the inequity of manpower and health resources in the most underserved provinces.   We will try to close the gaps in health services by investing in new community health centers and district hospitals.  We will build on the existing strengths and capacities of our workforce. There are thousands of honest and dedicated health staff in the frontlines --- community doctors, nurses, midwives and barangay health workers.  They work hard and are determined to improve services for our patients.  What we need to do is to unlock their talents and develop their competencies so that we have multi-skilled health workers such as nurse-midwives or nurse-practitioners who can serve even in remote communities.

Our health system, too, must be flexible to meet the needs of our local governments. There has to be integration of hospital and primary health care and better relations of the DOH with our local chief executives in terms of giving guidance, assistance and support.  We must be able to provide the complete package of essential health services in the context of what we call “the continuum of care from home to hospital.”   In fact, we may have to use innovative and technological solutions to reach our poor and indigenous people in far-flung areas.  Like the use of helicopters for delivering vaccines or portable emergency services…modern tools of communication… and even telemedicine that will make health care possible even where there are no modern facilities or specialist doctors.  

Ladies and gentlemen, in my career as a surgeon, I have worked with my colleagues and we have always challenged one another to improve continuously the care we provide for our patients.  At the NKTI, we weaved an inspiring story of how a government hospital can deliver care beyond the ordinary and provide specialized medical services for Filipinos at par with the best in the world.

My career is now dedicated to replicating the NKTI experience.  We want to transform our government hospitals into centers of quality and excellence for our patients so that they are not only hospitals for the poor but hospitals for the Filipino people....able to compete with private hospitals in a friendly way and respond to our patients’ expectations in terms of giving effective personalized care and providing the cleanest and safest environments.

We will improve health services for the rest of our people across the service and in the entire nation.  We will aim to build a national health system that has solidarity, service, equity and quality of care at its heart. One that gives our people empowerment, choice and comfort. One that is strong and sustainable to effectively reduce risk and prevent disease as well as give the sick affordable healthcare.

There is so much to address in health.  The shortage in human resources for health, particularly doctors, is a well-known fact.  70% of all health professionals are working in the private sector addressing the needs of about 30% of our population while 30% of health workers employed by government are addressing the health needs of the majority of Filipinos.  Many of our hospitals and health centers need to be improved and upgraded.  Two days after we took office, the news featured the story of a pregnant woman about to deliver turned down by several hospitals because they were either too full to accept more patients or are not equipped to address her needs. This is tragic especially since saving mothers and children is now at the center of the DOH’s development initiatives as key to our country’s commitment to achieve Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5 by 2015. 

Today, I am renewing that commitment and declaring that efforts to achieve the MDGs must remain top priority. No woman should die giving birth nor turned down especially in our government hospitals until she is given emergency care and properly referred to another health facility.

More so, I call for the acceleration of efforts that shall champion reproductive health (RH) as a means to ensure the health and welfare of Filipino families.   We will explain to the public the importance of “responsible parenthood.”  We will protect the health of our men, women and children within a continuum of health services that tackles all the 10 elements of Reproductive Health.  Families are the necessary foundation of a strong republic and they must be guided and empowered to decide with complete and correct information about options that are available for them.  We will support the legislative agenda of the President that will ensure comprehensive health services for our people and a population policy that prevents abortion and unwanted pregnancies and which advances the sustainable and equitable growth of our economy. 

With this momentum of change ahead of us, I am asking our partners from the private sector and the donor community to help us usher in a new kind of governance where every Filipino counts.   I assure you that health is central to the development agenda of the President and this administration.  But let us all be mindful of our common mission and responsibility. Let us be one in vision and hope that we will collectively and finally secure a just and fair health system that gives Filipinos adequate and quality healthcare that they have long wanted and deserved.

Thank you. Everyone counts in this grand challenge. Mabuhay po tayong lahat!