Approach to health must be multi-sectoral — Health Secretary

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In the first committee hearing on the Senate Bill No. 378 creating a Health Promotion Institute last February 15, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial, maintaining that health should be the concern not just of one department but of the whole government and society, said that she fully supports the creation of an independent health promotion entity focusing on the preventive aspect of health.

“We believe in the dictum that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. It is very important for programs to not only look at the illnesses, but how we can avoid them. It is not just the health sector that is involved in determining health policies, it is a society and government-wide intervention and responsibility. This body [focusing on prevention], we hope, will be formed outside DoH,” Ubial expressed during the hearing chaired by Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Concurring with Ubial on the need for a multi-sectoral approach to health are the other attendees, which include heads and representatives of health groups and institutions such as World Health Organization – Asia Pacific Region Regional Office for the Western Pacific (WHO WPRO), University of the Philippines Manila, HealthJustice Philippines, and the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (SEATCA).

Carmencita Padilla, Chancellor of UP Manila, shared that her institution convened a committee to study the various models for the health promotion body. She observed that “intersectional support” is a common factor among those nations that successfully institutionalized health promotion.

Dr. Susan Mercado, Director of the Division of NCD and Health through the Life-Course at WHO WPRO, and herself a former Undersecretary at the DoH, pointed out that health promotion institutions of Thailand and Australia have a common feature— “the participation and empowerment of communities.”

Ubial emphasized that the Health Department is still focused on addressing the part of the population that is still stick and that the health promotion entity must be a separate unit from the department precisely because it will have a different priority. ”DOH will still have a health promotion unit, but the office is focused on how to address the ill population. We need something that can influence other agencies of government yet also be part of the overall government-wide and sector-wide initiative for ensuring an environment that promotes healthy living,” Ubial said.

Dr. Ulysses Dorotheo of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance affirmed the necessity for a “whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach.” He suggested that the Board of the health promotion entity that will be formed should be expanded to include the National Economic Development Authority and Department of Labor and Employment, among other agencies. CSO participation should be expanded to enhance the role of the citizenry and ensure transparency and accountability,” he added.

Finally, Dr. Mercado welcomed the bill as a “a very positive development for Philippines. ”We have waiting for many years to see a proposal like this in the floor of the Senate,” she announced.

Health Promotion has gained greater attention in light of the recent rise of non-communicable diseases in the Philippines. Data from the 2013 Philippine Health Statistics released by the Department of Health revealed that 800 persons die every day from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or non-infectious and non-transmissible diseases such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and respiratory diseases.

In a statement released earlier, Atty. Irene Reyes of HealthJustice bewailed the lack of attention given to health promotion. According to her, “resources are concentrated on providing care for those who are already sick. It is the government that ends up paying all the hospital bills. Why not invest in promoting a healthy lifestyle that could prevent sickness in the first place?”

The Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion, to which the Philippines is a party, describes “Health Promotion” as “not just the responsibility of the health sector, but goes beyond health lifestyles to well-being.” Mercado and Padilla likewise recommended the integration of the Health Promotion definition as stated in the charter in the Senate bill being deliberated upon.

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