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Checking on our Check-Ups: Strengthening the Diagnostics System in The Philippines

Dusit Thani Hotel, Philippines
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Community-based diagnostics, in the form of testing and self-monitoring of symptoms, has brought notable success in the Philippines in shifting the needle on screening and prevention of public health threats. Community-based screening was particularly notable in raising the awareness of key populations in the Philippines to be aware of their HIV status. This is an essential component in bridging the unmet public health needs for Filipinos at the height of the COVID-19 crisis.

The pandemic has made Filipinos more conscious of their health and lab diagnostics have increased in demandUnfortunately, Filipinos living outside Metro Manila have limited access to such testing to make informed clinical decisions. Three-quarters of the country’s tertiary care facilities are situated in Luzon, which means patients situated in Metro Manila have better access to x-ray machines (41.6 units per 1 million population) than those in secondary cities such as Visayas (28.7 units per 1 million population) and Mindanao (26.0 units per 1 million population). This is why conditions, such as cervical cancer – which is ranked as the top two cancers for Filipino women, are only diagnosed in the advanced stages - giving rise to a high mortality.

Fortunately, with the President’s plans to expand healthcare in rural areas and to improve Filipinos’ access to quality and efficient healthcare, the Philippines has been working on regulations that aim to bring healthcare closer to Filipinos. Key regulations that have been put in place to accelerate healthcare policy objectives include the nation’s recent ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) to boost trade and economic activity, including access to medical devices currently available in other countries and ongoing efforts to implementing its Universal Health Care Act (UHC), which entitles all Filipinos to the Primary Care Benefit Package with several types of free laboratory diagnostic tests for select conditions.

Despite such commendable efforts, the prohibitive cost of diagnostics is a significant barrier to access, and consequently, to the diagnosis and treatment of the country’s priority diseases. Part of strengthening the diagnostic system entails improving national health financing to increasing diagnostic availability and accessibility. To continuously empower communities to make healthy and informed choices, diagnostics is a critical first step for any medical conditions, from cervical cancer to HIV. For the betterment of health for individuals, it is high time that health leaders and regulators work hand in hand with private sectors to accelerate ease of access to better and strengthen diagnostic systems – including in the Philippines.

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