During the hearing on Senate Bill 378 on the institutionalization of health promotion chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros last February 15, public health institutions, groups and think tanks backed the creation of an independent health promotion body focusing on the preventive aspect of health care.
Department of Health (DoH), World Health Organization Asia Pacific Region Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WHO WPRO), HealthJustice Philippines, and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA) all agreed that there is a need for an independent health promotion entity provided with stable funding and insulated from political interference.
Must be independent
Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, who rose through the ranks in the bureaucracy, talked about a move in the department years ago to prioritize health promotion. “We used to have a body on health promotion. But it was downsized. It is still there, but it has very few staff. Our take is that it has to be independent, but working in close coordination with the Department of Health,” Ubial shared.
Dr. Susan Mercado, Director of the Division of NCD and Health through the Life-Course at the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for the Western Pacific and former Undersecretary at the DoH, concurred with Ubial.
“[The health promotion body] has to be independent, impartial and free from political interference. This has to be an agency that can step up against commercial determinants of health,” Mercado emphasized.
Atty. Irene Reyes of HealthJustice Philippines, a public health policy think tank and advocacy group, explained that for the health promotion entity to be effective, it must be protected against political exigencies, such as changes in the leadership and agenda in line departments.
Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Alliance for Global Tobacco Control added that in order to further protect the integrity of the body, the bill should make it explicit that representatives of the tobacco industry should be absolutely prohibited from being involved in any way with it.
Whole-of-society and whole-of-government approach
The resource speakers all agreed that health promotion should not be just the concern of one department, but should be the concern of all.
HealthJustice recommended “population-based approaches” and “effective coordination among agencies and communities.”
Mercado suggested that the definition of Health Promotion in the bill be refined by incorporating the definition in the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, an international agreement forged at the First International Health Conference on Health Promotion held in November 1986 in Ottawa, Canada.
“Health is a positive concept emphasizing social and personal resources, as well as physical capacities. Therefore, health promotion is not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond healthy life-styles to well-being,” the definition states.
“The spirit of health promotion is to challenge the biomedical model of health. What we have learned is that the more appropriate model is the social ecological model health, which is determined by behaviour of the people around them,” Mercado declared.