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22 November 2013

WASHINGTON, DC—The Philippines can be expected to continue making progress in the public health sector, particularly in its efforts to reduce maternal and infant mortality rates, despite the recent havoc wreaked by Typhoon Haiyan in the central part of the country.

This was the prognosis of participants in the recent forum on Public Health in the Philippines: Progress and Challenges at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted by the  Philippine Embassy along with the US-Philippines Society, the CSIS, and the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Program, in cooperation with the Department of Health and the Zuellig Family Foundation.

Forum speakers, who included former Foreign Affairs Secretary and Zuellig Foundation Chair Roberto Romulo and Trustee Daniel Zuellig, say they remain hopeful that the Philippines will be able to overcome the negative impact of Typhoon Haiyan on public health.

“Despite the destruction brought about by Typhoon Haiyan, we know that the Filipino spirit of bayanihan will prevail and that out of this crucible, we will rise stronger and more productive communities,” said William Glass, the Director for Strategic Communications at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

During the forum, Health Secretary Enrique T. Ona and other speakers discussed the status of public health in the Philippines and highlighted the challenges of reproductive health as well as the strategies the private sector, local leadership and policy makers can use to respond to such challenges.

“There is still much to be done,” Secretary Ona said in his keynote speech delivered via video call from Manila where he had to stay to assist in relief efforts in typhoon-devastated areas in the Central Philippines.

“Our targets for 2016 are to decrease not only maternal mortality rates but also under 5-years mortality, the prevalence of tuberculosis and patients getting malaria as well as maintain low HIV-AIDS prevalence and control its growth,” Secretary Ona told forum attendees.

According to him, the Department of Health has been successfully implementing since 2010 its Health Facility Enhancement Program which resulted not only in the upgrading of 1,567 barangay health stations, 1,642 rural health units, and 266 local government hospitals and 60 national hospitals but also in the delivery of health services to the public.

In his presentation, former Agrarian Reform Secretary and Zuellig Family Foundation President Ernesto Garilao discussed how the partnership between the Department of Health and the foundation through the Health Leadership and Governance Program will further reduce maternal and infant mortality rates in the country.

The partnership, which was launched in May, was inspired by Zuellig Family Foundation’s Health Change Model and seeks to empower local officials; help strengthen the capabilities of public healthcare systems; and improve access to healthcare for the poor, especially in rural areas.

Former Secretary Garilao said Zuellig Family Foundation’s model has been credited for helping bring down maternal mortality rates since it was implemented in 37 municipalities. The success of the approach led to the decision of the health department to replicate the same in 609 other municipalities which started in August 2013.

He said both the health department and the Zuellig Family Foundation want to extend the program to another 624 poor municipalities and hope to raise $8.4 million of the total $20.6 million in support of the program.

In his remarks, Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. thanked the United States and international and global health communities for rushing to support the Philippines in the aftermath of the typhoon, which has affected as many as 10 million people.

“I would like to express my appreciation for the words of sympathy and support for the victims and family of the victims of Typhoon Haiyan. We wish to thank our American friends and the United States Government, which was one of the first to respond to the appeals for assistance,” Ambassador Cuisia said.

Other speakers and panelists were former Health Secretary Esparanza Cabral, Trustee of the Zuellig Family Foundation; Basil Safi, Head for the Asia Division and Matthew Lynch, Director for Global Program on Malaria, both at the Center for Communication Programs of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

More than 80 participants attended the forum, including representatives from government organizations, institutions and private companies such as the US Agency for International Development, US-ASEAN Business Council,  Asia America Initiative, Abbott, Futures Group, General Electric Company, Howard University College, Johns Hopkins International Medical Corps, Legacy International and McLarty Associates.

Also present were leaders from various Filipino-American organizations such as the Association of Philippine Physicians in America, Medical Mission of Mercy, National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Philippine Nurses Association of Metropolitan DC, Philippine Nurses Association of America, American Coalition for Filipino Veterans and the Philippine Medical Association. ###