Plans set to get UHC back on track in provinces

Provincial health officials reconnected with their life’s purpose and agreed to work toward attaining Universal Health Care (UHC) after attending a two-day leadership training. As one group of provincial health team leaders (PHTLs) declared for their region, “Sa CAR (Cordillera Administrative Region), saan mang sulok, kalusugan ay maabot.”

The training, attended by 18 PHTLs and three UHC coordinators from CAR, Ilocos Region, and Cagayan Valley region, is part of the Leadership for Development Program (LDP) to Accelerate UHC Implementation. This is a partnership between the Department of Health’s Field Implementation and Coordination Team (DOH-FICT) in northern Luzon and the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF).

The PHTLs will cascade their learnings to their teams of development management officers so they too build their leadership capacities. They defined the ways to win over their critical stakeholders in co-owning the challenges in attaining UHC, a crucial step given the arduous tasks to build province-wide health systems. To do this, they will localize the intent of the UHC law to make its relevance clearer to local officials who will hopefully be moved to take urgent actions.

These initial efforts are intended to attain within the second quarter of 2022 the objectives of having dedicated provincial teams for health promotion and disaster risk reduction and management in health, as well as functional epidemiologic and surveillance units in the provinces. Through these, provinces would have met at least 70% of the conditions set under the preparatory level for UHC.

PHTLs’ active and proper guidance will help local government units fulfill the conditions under the 2019 UHC law. They are responsible for carrying out the DOH functions that include planning, advocating, mobilizing resources, providing technical assistance, and collaborating with the provinces.

Unfortunately, many PHTLs have faced roadblocks. The pandemic forced all local government units to focus on COVID-19 management. There are also fundamental gaps in health promotion and education, information systems, and human resources.

The first module focused on applying the competencies under the bridging leadership framework of owning the issues, co-owning them with the stakeholders, and co-creating the solutions. Participating PHTLs underwent discussions and exercises in situational analysis, creating team vision, and planning stakeholder engagement and other next steps.

Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, who heads DOH-FICT northern Luzon and NCR clusters, reminded the PHTLs about their role in catalyzing improvements within the DOH and sharing their knowledge, especially with governors and mayors, since local chief executives’ policies and actions will determine the reduction of health inequities and sustainability of health improvements.

The next training for PHTLs will happen in July 2022. Cabotaje, a participant in ZFF’s past leadership program for DOH regional directors, asked ZFF to replicate its programs for three partner provinces that progressed considerably toward UHC despite the pandemic. The DOH regional leadership wanted similar transformations in the capacities of their key officials so they can also coach and mentor provincial and city health leaders on what and how things should be done to attain UHC.