Sorsogon Governor Chiz Escudero said the country’s implementation of the Universal Health Care (UHC) Act will be useless if it does not benefit the poorest provinces, especially in Mindanao.
Escudero, who is running for senator, said local government units (LGUs) in the south tend to be neglected when it comes to support for infrastructure development and health care, which explains why the municipalities and provinces there remain the poorest in the Philippines.
“You cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy constituency. And there can be no true UHC if the people in Mindanao continue to have little or no access to quality health care. That requires adequate supply of medicines, health equipment and health workers,” Escudero said.
Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data for the first quarter of 2021 showed Mindanao provinces in the poorest cluster: Sulu, with 71.9% poverty incidence among families; Zamboanga del Norte, 53.6%; Basilan, 46.7%; Sarangani, 42.1%; Cotabato City, 42%; Agusan del Sur, 39.6%; and Tawi-Tawi, 39.5%; and. These were the same poorest provinces in the PSA’s 2018 poverty incidence report.
“Right now, you have provinces in Mindanao that do not have barangay health centers for half their population. How can you have universal health care in these areas? Health care cannot be called ‘universal’ if somebody is left out or left behind,” Escudero said.
The governor, whose province, Sorsogon, is among the pilot sites for UHC, said the implementation of the UHC law is anchored on effective primary health care and 100% health insurance coverage for the population. But these are not easily achievable for many LGUs.
“We have 42,036 barangays in the country but only 55% have barangay health stations, which means almost half of our population do not have access to primary health care. The Department of Health should look into a more equitable distribution of health support, beginning with provinces in Mindanao,” Escudero said.
The veteran legislator also urged the DOH to strengthen its Doctors to the Barrios (DTTB) program, which deploys doctors to geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDAs). In 2017, only 215 DTTBs were serving under the program.
“How many of our DTTBs are deployed in Mindanao? Maybe the DOH should increase the incentives for doctors who choose the difficult path of community medicine and to ensure their safety as they make their way to the remotest villages,” Escudero said.
Aside from improving health care access, he said the next administration should continue the Build, Build, Build program, which has benefitted Mindanao in the last six years.
“Pinaka-kailangan ng tulong at imprastraktura ng Mindanao kumpara sa Luzon na madalas ay binubuhusan ng napakaraming imprastraktura ng mga nagdaang presidente. Dapat magtayo at magpalakas din tayo ng mga sentro ng komersyo sa iba’t ibang parte ng Mindanao, gaya ng ginawa sa Davao,” he said.