Committing to Innovation and Collaboration

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Keynote Message

We successfully overcame COVID-19 and it’s through the help of all the people who helped us get the vaccines; the pharmaceutical companies that supported us.

We were the only country that actually did a portfolio approach in vaccination and that was because the pharmaceutical industry was able to help us. Seven different companies provided us with enough vaccines to vaccinate 70 million. We actually achieved 78 million. 

We also achieved a world record. We’re number four in the most COVID vaccinations in a single day—1.8 million COVID doses injected in a single day where only three other countries were higher than us in a single day. 

True enough, because of that solidarity and commitment to help, we were able to actually get out of the public health emergency.  We’re in a situation now where we’re looking at innovations for the future. 

This time, we’re struggling with several diseases, not just one.  And we go back to the old healthcare system that we saw was really weak and needed strengthening. We actually were able to struggle and to win the fight because of solidarity and bayanihan. 

5 COLLABORATION TARGETS

Maybe, some of you have read my 8-point action agenda. Well, it’s now the Department of Health’s 8-point action agenda which is really just a verbalization of what Universal Healthcare will be like and what are the elements we need to concentrate on. 

I set out five targets that I’d like to disclose to the industry now and I know all of you are more than willing to help. Because in all of them, your companies will play a vital role. 

First Target: We achieved what we call 104% of vaccination for our targets in COVID-19. But our fully immunized child is about 70%, one of the lowest in the world. 

We are number five in the world for the number of zero-dose children. My first goal is really to achieve 95% fully immunized children. We achieved it one time before with Secretary Juan Flavier, when we implemented the national immunization days, which is what we actually also used to get the targets of COVID-19 vaccination. 

We used the immunization day principle when people get vaccinated in dates that we scheduled, and that National Immunization Day was copied all over the world to actually increase their vaccination rates. I think that’s one important thing. If we want the Philippines to progress, we need to protect our children from all vaccine preventable diseases, and I need the whole pharma industry to help me out. 

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What else did we learn during COVID-19 about vaccination? We need some level of national security in terms of vaccine production. We’re buying all our vaccines. Even Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand were able to do fill and finish to be able to actually provide the vaccines for the citizenry. We waited for the vaccines to arrive. I would stay up late up to the middle of the night waiting for crates of vaccines to arrive at the airport. You saw that on my pictures on social media and we need to support that—the 95% is actually doable. 

All of us here probably got their children vaccinated not by the Department of Health but by a private pediatrician. But we don’t count that. Hence, we need solidarity with the Philippine Pediatric Society, the Academy of Family Physicians, and all other physicians in the private sector that give vaccines.

Second Target: One of the best health measures of any country is height—the average height of that country. If we’re going to be a population of short people, that means we are stunted. Do you know what is the rate of stunting, according to the National Nutrition Council? It’s 27%. That’s about three in 10 children. Some 10 Filipino children, by the time they’re born, will be stunted. And what does the stunting mean? That’s undernutrition. So, the rest of the nutrients they take will go to the development of bones and muscles. They conserve it. But they will not have energy to develop the brain. The brain gets stunted. Before six years old, your brain is already fully developed. If you don’t give good nutrition before that age, you will have a stunted brain. And

by that time the children go to school, that’s after six years old, the brain is underdeveloped. 

Hence, even if you catch up and feed at school age, or even if you feed at preschool, you may not catch the stunting. One of the goals here is really to push for the first 1,000 Days Coalition—the movement to actually feed mothers the moment they become pregnant, to be able to provide them with the micronutrients that they need.

Building a human capital with intelligence protected from disease are two of the most important public health concepts that we need to actually get help from the industry. 

Third Target: When I was Undersecretary, we were fighting for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There were three things there—immunization of children, tuberculosis (TB), and maternal mortality. 

At that time, our maternal mortality was 154 per 100,000. We pushed for lowering it. By the end of our term, in 2015, it was something like 125 per 100,000 women delivering. More recently, it went down to 111. But after COVID-19, do you know that it went up again to 144 per 100,000? And when you look at those who died, they were mostly teenage moms. 

Our teenage pregnancy problem is increasing our maternal mortality. We need to fix this as well to be able to provide for our pregnant women.

Fourth Target: The President asked me to fix the problem of why we are number four in the world in terms of the burden of tuberculosis. And if you talk about tuberculosis, you also talk about HIV, because the cases we catch that have tuberculosis also end up having HIV. Those that we catch with HIV end up having tuberculosis. 

Making sure that TB medicines get to the patients themselves is actually the only time we can beat TB. Maybe, the private sector can help us in terms of asset management—from procurement to storage, to supply delivery and final disposal of medicines.

In years past, my goal used to be at least zero deaths from TB. It’s now 2023. TB is a curable disease. If you have the medications and you produce the medicines, we can treat it and patients shouldn’t die from it. Our goal is to have no Filipino dying from TB. I don’t think I can decrease it, but at least if the people are diagnosed, and they are given the medications, then we should not be reporting cases of TB deaths. 

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HIV will follow because HIV is also the other scary part. We need the ARV’s that are being produced. We’re able to buy the ARVs. The problem is we’re not catching all the HIV patients. Our HIV patients used to be 22 new cases a day. Do you know what the latest report is? 50 new cases a day. 

You know what is the age that they get HIV? Something’s happening in our community. I think that part of solving this problem is to have a partnership with the Department of Education. But then somebody approached me, “Sir, how about the out of school kids?” This is also true. We also need to think of kids who are out of school and entering into these problems of teenage pregnancy and HIV. 

These are the top four targets: Fully immunized children/immunization; nutrition (decrease undernutrition from 27% to as much as 50% or about 13% of the population); maternal mortality; and addressing the TB and HIV problem.

FIFTH TARGET

I’m a trauma surgeon and before I became Secretary of Health. My research has been on disasters and road safety. I did a big, big study funded by the Department of Health on the status of road safety in the Philippines. What did I find? 

We’re killing our young men. About 70% of our deaths in the roads are young men age 15 to 35 and the killer is a two-wheeled vehicle, two-wheeler motor vehicles. 

They either get a head injury or something and they never make it. But if you think about it, this is tremendous because the people who ride them are the people who used to ride public transport. Now that they have a little money and motorcycles are cheap, they start buying motorcycles for convenience so they can go to work and to their home in a quicker manner. The only problem is they’re risking their lives. 

The other day we had a panel on primary care at the Congress. There was a report on primary care and one of the congressmen was a former policeman. He stated that in his many entanglements with the criminals, he would ask: “How did you become a criminal?” The response: “Because my father died.” The head of the family, the breadwinner dies and they’re forced to go into drugs or crime—robbery, hold up—just to sustain the family. And so, this is the fifth target: Road safety and addressing road injury.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP

You’ll have to be my partner and that’s why I’m here. I’m asking for your help in terms of advocating that there’s a group from your companies that already pushed to actually supply first line TB drugs by producing them here. 

It has to be a public-private partnership because they’re requesting that we procure from this particular facility. Of course, that’s possible through the efforts of a public-private partnership. That can be done since we’re buying these medicines. If you produce it and it’s going to be cheaper, then that’s going to be even better because you will provide jobs to many more Filipinos through your production facility. That way, we beat each problem. There are many solutions we can do.  We learned a lot during COVID. We can solve our problems if we get together, both the private sector and the public sector—the national government and the local government. Together, there’s no health problem we cannot solve. Maraming salamat, Mabuhay! I do hope we get to reach a healthy Pilipinas. Bawat Buhay ay Mahalaga. Mabuhay ang PHAP! Thank you.

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