Beset and challenged both, three provincial governors hurdled difficulties in demonstrating genuine concern for the health and well-being of their constituents. In matters of health, they heard complaints of patients being turned away by hospitals for lack of downpayment money, of relatives being transported from one hospital to a better equipped one and dying along the way, of not having drinking water and sanitary toilets. It all boiled to one big problem – poverty, so evident and felt in rural areas. At a symposium Tuesday in Makati, the governors – Sharee Ann Tan of Samar, Florentino Miraflores of Aklan, and Adolph Edward Plaza of Agusan del Sur, shared their experiences in improving matters and allowing patients to have better care and at affordable cost.
The three governors have been “pupils’’ under the programs of the Zuellig Family Foundation, whose mission is ‘’to inspire health conditions in rural communities by training programs for local government health leaders to strengthen health leadership and improve governance.’’
The foundation’s focus in improving health systems is rooted in the Zuellig family’s long-standing business in health care. It began when Frederick E. Zuellig came to Manila in 1901 for business opportunities. After World War II, his sons Stephen and Gilbert rebuilt, diversified and expanded the firm internationally. In 1997, the Zuellig grandsons, Daniel and David, established the Pharmaceutical Health and Family Foundation that catered to the health needs of the communities surrounding the manufacturing plant of Zuellig’s Interphil Laboratories Inc. in Canlubang, Laguna, and in 2008, changed the name to Zuellig Family Foundation.
A research paper by scholars noted the “great disparities in access to healthcare, resulting in significant difference in health status between the rich minority and the poor majority of Filipinos.”
ZFF addressed the gap by empowering local leaders with the proper tools and training to systematically implement reforms so their healthcare systems respond to the needs of the underprivileged. The leaders are coached and mentored on effective healthcare systems.
Grandson David told the symposium – attended by a good number of delegates from government and NGOs involved in healthcare services, on the occasion of the 10th year anniversary of ZFF, that the foundation is the vehicle of the family in “giving back to the country of our birth.”
The foundation focuses on health leadership and governance of local executives since they control the health facilities where the poor go to for services. Over the past 10 years, its health leadership and governance model initially piloted in 72 municipalities is now in over 600 municipalities and 23 provinces. It has also cooperated with the Department of Health and its regional directors and their staff. It has trained 13 academic partners who share the leadership approach to other sectors.
In his remarks, Roberto R. Romulo, ZFF trustees chair, said the foundation developed a Health Change Model, which states that health indicators, especially of the poor, will improve if they have access to health services that are made available by an equitable health system, made possible by a responsive local chief executive and his team.
Romulo made it clear that ZFF president, Ernesto D. Garilao, has kept the foundation on track. For example, the Health Leaders for the Poor program he introduced, also known as the Bridging Leadership process, equipped the mayors with an understanding of the inequities in their health system. Model-tested in two years, its major focus was (and still is) maternal health.
In 2013, former Health Secretary Enrique Ona asked ZFF to adopt the approach and work with priority municipalities of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. All partnership policies, systems and procedures are co-created with the DOH, with operating costs shouldered by ZFF.
In 2016, ZFF started working with provincial governors and DOH regional directors, the purpose being to let the poor have better access to health services. This mandated provincial governors to exercise direct supervision over the hospitals, where the political officers assigned there carry out the goals and objectives of the municipal health system.
The three governors mentioned above and regional directors spoke at the symposium of the approaches they used to improve their health systems. For one, they visited poor communities. They fixed rundown government and peripheral hospitals, put in more hospital equipment, and constructed toilets and water systems in the houses that had to be fixed, worked for the hastening of PhilHealth assistance, and adding more doctors and personnel to the staff. Results have been good, as indicated by more people going to the hospitals instead of suffering at home in silence, maternal deliveries managed by skilled nurses and hilots, high contraceptive prevalence rates, and very few deaths.
They acknowledged the cooperation and participation of government agencies and members of the community – the latter won over by the executives’ meeting face to face with them, and the core groups they created to help in the achievement of their goals.
Governor Plaza said a lot has yet to be done to improve the systems, but for his part, he is hopeful in time he can leave ‘’a legacy of a quality health system with a high standard of service felt by the people.’’
This article was originally published in Philippine Star on September 27, 2018.