Towards universal healthcare: improving healthcare access for indigent Filipinos

While touting the Philippine pharmaceutical industry as one of the strongest in Southeast Asia, a study commissioned by the Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) has also acknowledged the challenges it continues to face due to the prevalence of communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as the devastating effects left by mega-disasters that struck in 2013.

Significant steps have already been accomplished by the pharmaceutical industry to address these challenges, and ongoing efforts are being made to further increase patient access to quality medication and healthcare.

“Though the Philippine pharmaceutical industry has achieved a lot and proved to be one of the best in Southeast Asia, it is equally important for us to pursue ways of increasing patient access to quality healthcare,” said PHAP Executive Director Teodoro B. Padilla.“PHAP and its member companies are building partnerships with communities and institutions to reach out to those in need of better health-care access.”

Until now, PHAP members, through the PHAPCares Foundation, Inc. continue to reach out to patients through medicine access initiatives, information campaigns, and humanitarian missions in areas suffering from health outbreaks and calamities. A landmark effort by PHAPCares is the adoption of Geographically Isolated and Depressed Areas (GIDA) such as those found in Sibutu, Tawi-Tawi and Del Carmen on Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte.

Empowering communities

Aside from the existing efforts of PHAPCares, PHAP’s member companies are making their own initiatives to reach out to underserved communities. For instance, Pfizer Philippines Foundation, Inc.,in partnership with Philippine Business for Social Progress, sought to help barangays by putting up self-sustaining health centers. In 2009, it successfully established its first ‘Blue House’ health station in Bacacay, Albay.

Pfizer also entered a partnership with Minalabac, Camarines Sur to launch the first NayBahayBirthing Center to improve maternal health and reduce child mortality in the area.

Aspen Philippines, another PHAP member, also actively supported projects for indigent communities. One of its efforts sought to uplift marginalized communities in heavily

populated urban areas. To achieve this, it partnered with non-government organizations and groups such as the South African Embassy.

Aspen’s partnership with the South African Embassy initiated programs for the promotion of children’s welfare. Such programs included visits and workshops through organizations like the Reception and Study Center for Children and the ChildHope Philippines Foundation. Aspen also conducted an outreach for the children of the Batak people, an indigenous group in Palawan.

Responding to disasters

To date, three million people are still in need of assistance after the havoc wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. As a response to the typhoon’s aftermath, PHAP member companies donated cash for disasterrelief and rehabilitation, as well as millions of pesos worth of medicines and vaccines. Through PHAPCares, PHAP members were able to donatemedical supplies worth approximately P110 million.

PHAP member Sanofi, through the Sanofi Espoir Foundation, has provided assistance to the government in times of natural disasters. When Typhoon Yolanda struck Central Visayas, Sanofi’s financial aid amounted to EUR1.1 million for post-disaster relief and the rehabilitation of destroyed medical facilities. For the survivors of the typhoon, Sanofi donated medicines and vaccines amounting to P7 million.

Likewise, Pfizer donated P40 million in cash, as well asP8million in medicines to assist with relief and rehabilitation. GlaxoSmithKline Philippines (GSK), which readily provides emergency relief and recovery efforts during natural disasters, distributed P61.6 million worth of medicines to institutions and offices such as the Philippine Red Cross, the Department of Health (DOH), and the National Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council, among others.

Both GSK and Pfizer participated in the rebuilding of homes for the Yolanda survivors. For their rebuilding efforts, Pfizer partnered with Habitat for Humanity, while GSK partnered with Gawad Kalinga.

As part of the pharmaceutical industry’s response to natural disasters, Merck Philippines donated a water tanker worth PHP two million to Red Cross for the distribution of potable water during natural disasters.

Patient empowerment through education

The Philippine pharmaceutical industry’s fight against communicable and non-communicable diseases did not stop at developing new medications, but also involvedproviding patients with informationto combat these illnesses.

For instance, in its effort to increase survival rates among children with cancer, Sanofi partnered with Philippine Children’s Medical Center to launch the “My Child Matters” campaign to raise awareness on the importance of early cancer diagnosis.In the same way, MSD’s campaign Babae, MahalagaKa! (Woman, You Are Important!) aimed to provide women with information on cervical cancer and the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease.

Other PHAP members focused on raising awareness for illnesses apart from cancer. For example, Novartis collaborated with the DOH and the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development to launch the first mobile phone-based leprosy referral system, the Leprosy Alert Response Network and Surveillance System (LEARNS). GSKP also spearheaded several disease awareness programs, which included “Win Against Asthma”and “Listen to the Signs of COPD,” among others.

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