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Health exec cites need to beef up human resources in health sector

HEALTH workers are overburdened at different levels of care and in different locations, leading to inequality in health care service delivery in the country, said Dr. Irma Asuncion, director of the National Center for Disease Prevention and Control of the Department of Health (DOH), in a press conference last Sept. 4 to mark the 11th Development Policy Research Month.

“They are tasked to provide counselling, education, and information as well as recording and reporting, which may be attributed to the fast turnover of staff and volunteers,” Asuncion explained.

Citing 2011 data from the National Statistical Coordination Board, she pointed out that the lack of sufficient health care workers is aggravated by the increase in the country’s population. Filipinos are living longer, with females having a longer life expectancy at 71.64 years than males at 66.1 years. Moreover, data from the National Statistics Office showed that the proportion of older persons is growing—from 3.83 percent of the population in 2000 to 4.19 percent in 2007.

The good news is that there is now a working Maternal and Neonatal Death Reporting System in the Philippines. The Unified Non-Communicable Disease Registry System or Oneiss will also be operational in the first quarter of 2014. Noncommunicable diseases are the top causes of death worldwide. In the Philippines, diseases of the heart, the vascular system, and malignant neoplasm are the top three leading causes of death.

At the national level, the DOH is addressing the lack of health human resources through a rationalization plan requesting a 16–17 percent increase in approved positions from the Department of Budget and Management.

Coordination among government agencies is needed particularly in fighting HIV-AIDS, which infects one Filipino every 1.5 hours. There is also a lot of work to do in meeting the Millennium Development Goals for health. The Philippines has the third highest total fertility rate in Southeast Asia, and ranks fourth in infant and under-5 mortality rate and fifth in neonatal and maternal mortality as well as underweight children under five years old, Asuncion said.

The country needs to upgrade health facilities, recruit and deploy health human resources, ensure competency, and ensure the availability of drugs, medicines, and vaccines, she said.

According to Asuncion, the government must also come up with adequate and effective communication strategies to reach target populations, specifically the poor. “We have to really track them to see if they are utilizing the resources available to them,” she said.

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