MANILA, Philippines – Alluding to the popular amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) ice bucket challenge, Senator Ralph Recto said the real challenge for government is to "pour more money into the health bucket.”
His comment came as the Department of Health (DOH) presented before the Senate its P86.58-billion ($1.98 billion*) budget proposal for 2015 on Wednesday, August 27. This is an increase of more than P2 billion ($45.7 million*) from the 2014 budget. (READ: Palace: Health budget increase to benefit PH's poorest)
Including DOH’s attached agencies, the proposed government health spending for 2015 would amount to around P102 billion ($2.33 billion), if approved.
Health Secretary Enrique Ona said PhilHealth expects to cover in 2015 a total of 15.3 million indigent Filipino families with a budget of P37.1 billion ($847.81 million).
To date, the government's health insurance program already covers 79.81 million Filipinos or an estimated 82% of the total population. PhilHealth’s target is a coverage of more than 90% by the end of 2014.
While Recto commended the increase in health spending, he said more funds are still needed since the allocation "in reality...will only meet a fraction of total health needs of the country.”
Enhancing facilities, recruiting workers
In the 2015 proposed budget, P5.51 billion ($125.91 million) will be needed to repair and build about 1,242 barangay health stations, 587 rural health centers, and 128 local government-run hospitals. This budget is higher than Recto’s figure of P2.9 billion ($66.27 million) which he said “is not enough.”
From 2010 to the present, the department has already upgraded 6,814 health facilities.
Recto is also seeking a higher subsidy for DOH’s corporate hospitals.
While the National Kidney and Transplant Institute and the Philippine Children’s Medical Center will see a budget hike for 2015, two other Quezon City-based specialty hospitals will not be as fortunate: the Lung Center of the Philippines and the Philippine Heart Center.
To ease maldistribution of health professionals among poor and difficult to reach areas, Ona said the health department already deployed 11,202 nurses and 2,700 registered midwives to 1,200 poor communities identified by the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC).
Recto said the 398 doctors government plans to hire may have a hard time coping up with the country's annual population growth of 1.8 million. Last July, the Philippine population already hit 100 million.
The senator also called for the recruitment of more dentists – more than the 480 the government wants to hire. The country licenses about 520 dentists every year. (READ: Where are the health workers?)
MDGs: Working double-time
More funding, he said, is also needed to vaccinate more children and to provide vitamins for them, and to combat diseases such as tuberculosis, dengue, HIV/AIDS, and water-borne diseases.
For him, a tuberculosis-free Philippines needs a funding of at least P5 billion ($114.35 million) – and not just the proposed P1.1 billion ($25.16 million).
Ona said that as of 2013, 89% of the Philippine population have already received protection from deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and measles, while 5 million children below 5 years of age have been given essential vitamins and minerals.
While the 5th Philippine Progress Report on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) said the Philippines has a good chance of meeting one of the 8 MDGs – reducing child mortality – it also said the country has a “medium probability” of ending malnutrition among children, and a “low probability” of improving maternal health and combating HIV/AIDS.
Recto said better funding can complement the country's efforts to meet health-related MDGs.
“In the scorecard to combat malaria, HIV and AIDS; in improving maternal health; in children immunization – we are lagging behind and we have 500 days left to overcome the deficit,” he added.
Below are some of the health department's targets for 2015:
*($1 : P43.76)
Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.