Preparing the next generation of health professionals

Philippines / Freedom for Health / 22 jan 2018

Of the over 100 million people living in The Philippines, many still lack access to basic healthcare. The healthcare system in the country has often been described as “fragmented”, with large discrepancies between national health policy and what local government units budget for and provide on the ground. Despite the government significantly increasing the budget for health in the recent years, and committing to Universal Health Coverage in 2010, the reality in the country is inconsistent services, with half the recommended amount of beds for the population size, and the majority of health services concentrated in cities and urban centres. Government health services are generally perceived as low quality, with long waiting times and worn out facilities and it remains the case that most health spending comes from the pockets of ordinary Filipinos. Another huge challenge for the Filipino health system is retaining its health workers. The country is a leading exporter of nurses and physicians, lured by better pay and working environment, yet it significantly needs more human resources for health on the ground.

The Alliance for Improving Health Outcomes (AIHO), a non-profit public health organisation, is working to change the course of the public health system in The Philippines. They believe that it is vitally important for future public health leaders and managers of the country to understand the root of health inequities and health system challenges from the very beginning of their training. AIHO therefore aims to expose young professionals to the local health systems in their formative years. They find that when young professionals experience the reality of the Filipino health system early in their careers, they will be in a better position to solve public health problems. AIHO aims to provide these future leaders with an ample grasp of health service delivery in the grassroots level, the social determinants of health, and the policies and bureaucracy which affects the provision of health care to those in need.

AIHO conducts and sponsors organised community immersions for medical students during their summer break, coordinated with rural health officers and with specific learning objectives, in order for the students to explore all the dimensions of a health system. Mentored by consultants who have experience as municipal public health managers, AIHO is optimistic that through this method, these students will acquire a better systems thinking which they can apply in their future roles as public health leaders and advocates of the country.

By preparing the public health professionals of the future, and ensuring talent remains in The Philippines, AIHO is helping to build a more robust national healthcare system which can provide free healthcare for all. This would ensure no one would have to avoid seeking treatment because of high healthcare costs, or become indebted from ill health.