Medicine Cabinet
Teodoro B. Padilla

KOFI ANNAN, then United Nations Secretary-General and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, once said that “the biggest enemy of health in the developing world is poverty.” Put the other way around, one of the biggest threats to economic progress and social development in a developing world is an ailing society.

Making health care accessible

The World Health Organization (WHO) explained that better health is necessary to human happiness and well being. Beyond personal benefits, improved health contributes to a country’s economic progress, as healthy populations live longer, are more productive, and save more.

Indeed, health and development are two interrelated concepts. Health should be looked at as a major pillar of the country’s economic and development strategy. The more health is prioritized in the national agenda and given a higher level of investment, the more chances of seeing progress and development. Department of Finance Secretary (DoF) Carlos Dominguez holds the same belief that all of development, in fact, should be about human development.

In his message during the “Health for Juan and Juana: Moving Forward with the Philippine Health Agenda” forum at the Asian Development Bank, Mr. Dominguez emphasized that among the most important measures of the inclusiveness of a country’s economic development is public access to health care.

Health care is very important for a country like the Philippines that has a young population, having a median age of 23. Economists consider it a demographic “sweet spot” as other countries face a greying population. These young people will soon be entering the work force, and then become part of the productive group that contributes to the faster expansion of the economy.

The DoF Secretary recognized the need to ensure that these young ones are not only educated but are also fit to be part of the labor force, and ultimately provided employment opportunities. Failure to do so could result in a high poverty incidence due to unemployment.

With this, the government is moving to implement an economic program, which involves a scaling up of public spending. These investments will be poured into both physical and human capital, including infrastructure, education, and health care. Apart from efficient tax collection, the DoF said that it needs a “robust, reliable and recurrent revenue flow” to invest into health care.

It recognized that health care requires investments in infrastructure such as hospitals and clinics that are properly equipped and adequately manned. Investments will likewise go to programs that will help address the gap in health care professionals.

“We have an intolerable doctor-to-patient ratio despite the fact our schools produce a large number of doctors and nurses. We need to reorient some of our medical schools so that they are able to produce paramedics and ‘barefoot doctors’ as quickly as possible,” observed Mr. Dominguez.

He added that these health care investments must be implemented now.

The forum, with theme “Bringing Health to Juan and Juana: Universal Healthcare in the Communities,” aspires for a primary health care where health care will be as close as possible to where people live or work. It places people at the center of health care where health services are organized around the people’s increasing needs and expectations whoever and wherever they may be.

Medicine Cabinet is a column of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), representing the research-based medicines and vaccines sector in the country. The author is the executive director of PHAP. E-mail the author at