Duque: COVID-19 ’blessing in disguise’ as it underscores pressing need for universal healthcare

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 21) — Coronavirus disease can be considered as a “blessing in disguise” as it has put a spotlight on the urgent need to introduce health reforms, Health chief Francisco Duque III said Friday.

Duque told a webinar hosted by the University of the Philippines that the current health crisis has also somehow paved the way for faster implementation of the universal health care law, which was enacted in February last year.

“This can also be some kind of blessing in disguise, serendipitous. Kasi parang na-accelerate iyong universal healthcare because of COVID-19. It is a catalyst,” he said.

[Translation: It seems COVID-19 was able to speed up the implementation of a universal healthcare system.]

“Although COVID-19 has exposed the fissures or the cracks, weakness of our health system, it has brought to (the) fore the areas, provisions of UHC that need to be accelerated in terms of their implementation,” he added.

The UHC law aims to ensure all Filipinos have access to quality and affordable health services.

It also seeks to have a paradigm shift -- from hospital care to primary care, veering away from the “American style” in which individuals bypass primary care providers in community-based health centers and seek treatment from specialists in bigger hospitals.

DOH earlier noted that bypassing lower-level healthcare facilities make Filipinos vulnerable to spending from their own pockets.

Under the UHC system, every Filipino would be assigned to a health worker who shall be their first point of contact. Primary care providers will guide patients through different healthcare facilities.

In the context of COVID-19, Duque said they urge health care workers and local governments to do “active case finding” by visiting local communities to monitor people’s health conditions and compliance to minimum health standards.

The government has also set up a One Hospital Command Center to ensure efficient health facility referral for coronavirus-hit individuals in Metro Manila and avoid decongestion in hospitals. The command center also facilitates medical transport and patient pick-up arrangements.

Duque said there must also be a separate command center for isolation centers for a better referral network.

“Let us broaden the context by which we are responding to the pandemic. And that context is universal healthcare,” Duque said.