DOH: Expanding primary care centers seen to help unburden health facilities

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 6) —  The Department of Health (DOH) seeks to expand primary care services in every village in the country to help prevent critical illnesses among Filipinos and unburden the healthcare system.

Health officer-in-charge Maria Rosario Vergeire on Thursday said about 60% to 70% of people who go to the hospital could be treated at primary care centers.

"Ito po ang makaka-solve sa napakataas na burden sa ospital. If we have this kind of services to our people, ang pupunta sa ospital unti-unti mababawasan, unti-unti tataas ang antas ng kalusugan sa ating bansa," Vergeire said.

[Translation: This will help ease the burden on hospitals. If we have this kind of service for our people, those who go to the hospital will gradually decrease, and the health status in the country will improve.]

There are currently 206 licensed primary care facilities scattered in Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Bicol, Calabarzon, and Mimaropa.

The establishment of a primary care service is a key reform under the Universal Health Care Law enacted in 2019. It seeks to provide immediate access to all Filipinos to lower, if not free out-of-pocket expenses on medical, mental, and dental services.

What to expect in a primary care facility?

One of the treatment facilities for COVID-19 patients in Pampanga has been converted into a primary care center. Its services were launched on Oct. 6.

At the center, anyone may get treatment, medicines, and hospital referrals for communicable and non-communicable diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, gastritis, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infection, dermatological diseases, hypertension, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases like bronchial asthma. There are also screenings for breast and cervical cancer.

Cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory diseases are some of the leading causes of death in the country. Hypertension could also lead to heart disease, which has been the top cause of death in previous years.

"Pine-prevent natin magkasakit further at magkakumplikasyon ang mga tao," Vergeire said.

[Translation: We are trying to prevent people from getting sick further and having complications.]

Mental health services are also available. The facility also offers routine immunization for infants, free vitamins and deworming, and family planning services. There are also free medicines.

Pampanga Vice Governor Lilia Pineda said these services are free, made possible in coordination with the DOH, the provincial government, PhilHealth, and the Social Welfare department.

Vergeire said providing immediate access to health care services could help prevent untimely deaths.

A national statistic released in 2021 said four out of 10 Filipinos who died in 2019 were not seen by a healthcare provider. The same report also stated that 52% of the deaths occurred at home.

"Hindi na sila pumupunta sa ospital kasi hindi siguro accessible, wala sigurong pera para pumunta sa ospital at magpagamot. Kaya marami sa ating mga kababayan, namamatay na lang sila sa kanilang bahay without any kind of medical attention, and that is very critical," Vergeire said.

[Translation: They don't go to the hospital anymore because, maybe it's not accessible, maybe they don't have the money to go to the hospital and get treatment. That's the reason why so many of our countrymen die in their homes without any kind of medical attention, and that is very critical.]

Health officials said there are already existing primary care services in the country. The health department and local governments' task now is to fix the system and align it to the UHC mandate.