The Department of Health (DOH) achieved significant strides in further strengthening the country’s healthcare system and addressing the country’s healthcare needs amid the COVID-19 pandemic, in accordance with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s directives for his first 100 days in office.

Under the leadership of Officer-in-Charge Maria Rosario Singh-Vergeire, the DOH has accelerated its COVID-19 vaccination and booster rollout, sustained its testing capacity, and strengthened the country’s detection, control and isolation system to prevent the spread of the virus.

The DOH has also reinvigorated the Universal Health Care (UHC) program to provide the public with social safety nets and assistance to poor and other vulnerable groups to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and other vital issues.

Through a whole-of-government and whole-of-society approach, the DOH has assisted the Department of Education (DepEd) and other concerned government agencies in addressing the losses sustained by the country’s educational system due to COVID-19.

Accelerated vaccine and booster rollout

In response to President Marcos Jr.’s directive to vaccinate 90% of the A2 population or the senior citizens and 30% of the eligible population with first booster dose against COVID-19 to maintain the country’s wall of immunity, the DOH launched the PinasLakas vaccination campaign on July 26, 2022.

Since its launching, as of October 6, 2022, 45,255 senior citizens and 3,433,713 individuals from the eligible population were vaccinated and boosted, respectively. The numbers helped improve the country’s vaccination rate for fully vaccinated individuals to 93.81% or 73.3 million Filipinos as of October 6, 2022. The number of Filipinos who received their first booster dose also increased to 25.62% of the general population or 20 million individuals.

The DOH also sustained its testing capacity with an average daily demand-driven output of 17,788 tests per day from 350 DOH-licensed COVID-19 testing laboratories as of September 30.

The department also strengthened the country’s COVID-19 detection, control and isolation, and tapped the support of the local government units (LGUs) to ensure strict implementation of COVID-19 protocols. These initiatives significantly contributed to the Office of the President’s decision to allow the voluntary wearing of facemasks in outdoor settings last September 12, 2022.

At the same time, As of 30 September 2022, the government has disbursed over Php 26 billion for the grant of COVID-19 benefits and compensation. Of these, over Php 18 billion was disbursed for the grant of Special Risk Allowance (SRA), Meals, Accommodation, and Transportation (MAT) benefits, Active Hazard Duty Pay (AHDP), and Life Insurance Enrolment under the Bayanihan Laws, Php 6.64 billion was disbursed for the provision of Health Emergency Allowance (HEA) formerly known as One COVID-19 Allowance, and Php 1.56 billion for the payment of COVID-19 Sickness and Death Compensation. 

Reinvigorated UHC

The DOH deemed it critical to revitalize the long-term health sector goals of the UHC Law, including equitable health outcomes and a more responsive health system for Filipinos.

To accomplish these objectives, the DOH has bolstered its Healthcare Provider Networks (HCPN) established during the pandemic by improving the country’s referral system and expanding healthcare access.

From July 1 to September 30, the National Patient Navigation and Referral Center catered to 89% of successful referrals within 48 hours. As for healthcare access, six (6) specialty centers namely Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center (BGHMC), and Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) for cancer; and Mariano Marcos Memorial Hospital and Medical Center (MMMHMC), Batangas Medical Center (BMC), Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center (VSMMC), and SPMC for neonatal services, were completed, increasing the total number of functional specialty centers in the country to 46. As for the status of specialty centers covering Heart, Lung, and Kidney, most hospitals have already achieved 65% to 91% of their completion.

In addition, the DOH has prioritized the completion, upgrading, repairing, and/or equipping of 1,661 health facilities, including 1,034 barangay health stations, 323 rural health units, four polyclinics, 125 LGU hospitals, 79 DOH hospitals, 15 military hospitals, and 88 other health care facilities.

As part of its aim to provide Filipinos with easy and reliable access to medicines, the DOH has imposed a Maximum Retail or Wholesale Price (MRP/MWP) on additional 35 drug molecules or 71 formulae, helping further reduce drug prices by an average of 93 percent.

To ensure and enhance quality health services across the country, the DOH deployed 29,948 human resources for health (HRH) all over the country, including doctors, dentists, nurses, pharmacists, medical technologists, nutritionist-dietitians, midwives, and physical therapists to support various health programs such as the PinasLakas Campaign and Bakunahang Bayan: Special Vaccination Days in LGUs.

The DOH also capacitated healthcare workers as UHC implementers by providing 12 UHC-related modules on the mandates of the UHC.

Social protection and learning losses

Acknowledging the vital role of effective social protection in coping with the effects of the pandemic, facilitating economic recovery, and addressing poverty, the DOH continued the provision of social safety nets and assistance to the poor and other vulnerable groups.

At present, the DOH implements the Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients Program (MAIPP), which aims to augment any remaining hospital bills of indigent patients, after the deduction of PhilHealth coverage, and provide them with free medicine and other medical interventions. As of end-August 2022, it has served 975,928 patients using P12.21 billion of the P15.65 billion allotted for the program.

The DOH has also supported the government’s decision to open face-to-face classes and other strategies to recover learning losses brought by the pandemic, which severely affected the delivery of education to Filipino students.

Moving forward

Using the lessons learned during the pandemic, the DOH has developed the Health Sector Strategy for 2023-2028 (Administrative Order No. 2022-0038), which is focused on making Filipinos healthier in terms of better, more equitable health outcomes, responsive health systems, and improved financial risk protection:

The strategy is focused on the following strategic thrusts – enable Filipinos to be healthy, protect Filipinos from health risks, care for Filipinos’ health and wellness, and strengthen health institutions and the workforce.

Primary care was further highlighted in a launch.