Assuming the position as the Department of Health (DOH) secretary for the second time, since last November 2017, Dr Francisco Duque III expressed his intent to help bringing back the ‘golden era’ of the government agency—one of the key priorities envisioned.

“There are high expectations and greater challenges with a much bigger budget of PHP 165 billion now than when we started with a PHP 10 billion budget in 2005,” highlighted Duque. “The DOH equally has a huge responsibility and accountability to the Filipino people.”

Some of DOH’s agendas to watch for in 2018 are: 1) the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City; 2) monitoring the health of Filipino grade school students who received the Dengvaxia vaccine; 3) addressing persistent public health issues such as the high maternal and neonatal mortality rates, and the increasing burden of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS in the country; and 4) the continuation of the Philippines Health Agenda (PHA), formerly headed by ex-health secretary, Dr Paulyn Ubial.

1. Marawi siege

Till date, the city in southern Philippines has still yet to recover from the war it went through last May-October 2017.

“We have to make sure that we can address the health needs of the people [in Marawi], especially the damaged health delivery infrastructure,” assserted the health secretary. He further expressed that their aim is to regain the city’s pre-war functionality—a task he admitted will not be easy to accomplish.

One of the many challenges the DOH needs to address in Marawi is  the mortalities in evacuation centres caused by pneumonia, sepsis, cardiovascular diseases, acute gastroenteritis, and prematurity.

2. Dengvaxia

A little more than a month after pharmaceutical giant, Sanofi Pasteur warned the public about the potential danger that dengue vaccine, Dengvaxia, poses on those who received it, the DOH said they will not be seeking legal damages versus officials who are responsible for the dengue immunisation programme.

“We need to watch out for the 873,000 students who had been vaccinated,” said Duque during a media forum last 5 January. He said that their aim is to mitigate, if not eliminate, the risk the dengue vaccine has on the children.

However, Duque clarified that the health department will be in full cooperation with other government agencies in probing the said immunisation programme. He also assured that the DOH will be conducting a 5-year heightened surveillance on the vaccinated grade schoolers.

3. Persistent health challenges

“While we confront today’s persistent health challenges such as high maternal and neonatal mortality rates, increasing burden of TB and HIV/AIDS as well as emerging problems like non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental disorders and drug resistance, these can all be systematically and strategically addressed if everyone in the DOH is willing to adapt a governance system of framework,” said Duque in a statement.

In 2016, the country’s maternal mortality rate was at 204 per 100,000 live births—the target then was 54 per 100,000 live births. Another major concern is the continuous increase of Filipinos infected with HIV. DOH’s Epidemiological Bureau’s HIV/AIDS Registry of the Philippines recorded 938 new cases in September 2017 alone.

“We need to intensify programs to ensure that the cases of HIV/AIDS will not further rise,” said Duque.

4. Philippine Health Agenda & the Universal Health Bill

Duque vowed to continue what former health secretary, Dr Paulyn Ubial started for the Philippine Health Agenda (PHA). According to him, what Ubial has started will be “merged with a strategic approach through the revitalisation of his own flagship program, FOURmula One Plus (F1 Plus).”

F1 Plus’ new tagline, Boosting Universal Health Care via FOURmula One Plus hints a brighter future to a more ‘transparent, inclusive, coordinative, and synergistic’ agenda with the efforts of both the public and private sector partners.

Duque, through his renewed commitment to the health department, also promises to prioritise the review of the Universal Health Bill. MIMS

Read more:
The 2017 MIMS Philippines Career Survey 
Year in Philippine Healthcare 2017