The Department of Health (DOH), through the leadership of Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire, has highlighted Primary Care as its flagship reform towards realizing Universal Health Care (UHC). Armed with lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOH aims to shift the country’s health system from the current high-cost, specialist-centric system to a preventive, promotive, and integrated primary healthcare service delivery system that detects and manages diseases early and addresses its root causes.

To do so, the OIC has identified priority initiatives that, when successfully implemented, will allow Filipinos to experience the benefits of Primary Care and UHC. Specifically, these include increasing accessibility of health care services, eliminating financial risk for indigent patients in public health facilities, promoting access to medicines, addressing social determinants of health, and supporting healthcare workers.

To kickstart the Primary Care initiatives, OIC Singh-Vergeire lead the launch of the Primary Care Day in Lubao, Pampanga last 6 October 2022 to provide essential primary care services, highlight the importance of investing in primary care, and underscore the role of Local Government Units as the main implementers of the primary care reform, pursuant to the UHC Law.

Primary Care is hinged on providing preventive health care services, which means that it relies on early screening, management, and referral to delay the onset of complications. Moreover, primary care underlines health promotion to improve overall health outcomes and address social determinants of health. Anchored on a Comprehensive approach, it provides first Contact-access and use of health services whenever necessary, includes  promotion, prevention, treatment and rehabilitation through Coordination and integration of all the care the user receives and needs with the other health services, and ensures that there is Continuity of services.

“Primary care is equity in action–it is the backbone of Universal Health Care. A reliable primary care system affords more of our kababayans the opportunity to access health services that they would otherwise not be able to enjoy under a health system that prioritizes high-cost specialist care” said DOH-OIC Singh-Vergeire.

Additionally, pursuant to the OIC’s priorities, she is currently leading initiatives aimed at improving the welfare of healthcare workers in the country, including the expansion of the Magna Carta of Health Care Workers to cover both the public and private sectors, as well as standardizing salaries of human resources for health (HRH) throughout the country.

“The reforms of UHC can only be realized if we have a sufficient and engaged healthcare workforce supporting and implementing our reforms on the ground. This is why we continue to strengthen intersectoral collaboration and harmonize policies to ensure needs-based production and retention of human resources for health. We are now working with concerned agencies like the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Commission on Higher education (CHED), Department of Migrant Workers (DMW), and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to address perennial issues on HRH production and implement short- and long-term measures in line with our bigger agenda of strengthening our healthcare workforce and ensuring adequate healthcare workers in the country.” the OIC stressed.

In realizing the promise of Universal Health Care, the OIC noted that primary care is the way to go as it is the most tangible way through which care can be brought closer to every Juan and Juana everywhere, ultimately helping improve the health outcomes of all Filipinos.

“Cultivating a primary care-focused health system has, for years, been a lofty challenge to the healthcare sector, to say the least. It entails reevaluating how healthcare is governed, financed, regulated, and delivered, and devising innovative policies and mechanisms to initiate a paradigm shift,” the DOH OIC said. “Despite this, the mission for us in the DOH is very clear–ensure that no one is left behind. Hence, my directive to the health sector is to reorient the system towards primary care where the most vulnerable have access to care and indigents do not have to pay anything in public hospitals,” she added.