Press Release
February 22, 2008


Worldwide, almost 11 million children die before their fifth birthday, an estimated 140 million children under five are underweight, 3 million die from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis claims 2 million lives, and 515,000 women die during pregnancy or child birth - almost all of them in the developing world, according to the World Bank. Death and poor health on such a scale are matters of concern in their own right, but they are also a brake on economic development.

Responding to this health challenge, along with other major development barriers, the largest-ever gathering of heads of state ushered in the new millennium with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs, adopted eight years ago by 189 countries, represent commitments to reduce poverty and hunger, and to confront ill-health, gender inequality, lack of education, and environmental degradation.

Three out of eight goals, eight of the 16 targets, and 18 of the 48 indicators relate directly to health, proving that health is a centerpiece of development. The three main health goals are: Reduce child mortality (MDG 4), Improve maternal health (MDG 5) and Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases (MDG 6).

How is the Philippines faring in terms attaining health targets? Let us take a look at the figures:

As of 2006, our infant mortality rate is at 24 deaths per 1,000 live births. The under-five mortality rate is about 32 per 1,000 live births. Gains were made in both aspects, with at 58% decline in infant mortality and 60% decline in under-five mortality compared with 1990 figures.

Unfortunately, the country's maternal mortality ratio (MMR) has not declined since the 1990s, with 172 women out of 100,000 live births dying during child birth, or approximately 4,100 women each year. This is the highest in Asia, surpassing Vietnam by nearly double (95 per 100,000) and Malaysia and China by more than triple (50 per 100,000). The slow decline in MMR makes it unlikely for the country to reach the target of reducing it by three-quarters by year 2015.

This is not helped by the fact that out of the three million pregnancies that occur every year, half are unplanned and one-third of this ends in unsafe abortion. Only half of all women are using contraceptives.

In the area of HIV/AIDS, six Filipinos are reported infected with HIV every week, where one in every three cases is an OFW. However, there seems to be an underreporting, as the DOH estimated the HIV/AIDS case to be about 11,200 as of 2005.

Malaria claims the lives of 151 Filipinos a year, tuberculosis about 29,370. Moreover, there is a serious public health menace that is silently killing Filipino children - diabetes. An estimated number of six million Filipinos know they have diabetes, and another six million is estimated to have the disease but are not aware they have it

Globally, the Philippines ranks 10th among countries with the highest diabetes incidence. The disease is more rampant today than 20 years ago, and is now the 9th leading cause of death in the country. It is increasingly affecting even the younger generations, with cases of diabetes in pre-teens and teens surging due to lifestyle reasons, mainly the lack of physical activity and poor diet. By 2010, there would be an estimated 15 million diabetics in the country unless the disease is curbed.

With great changes in the global health environment as well as continuing critical gaps in the country's health sector, a roadmapping of the health sector must be undertaken to review existing laws on health, the curriculum for medical and health sciences education, current efforts on health R&D, and public financing of health.

A legislator is on top of this effort.

Senator Edgardo J. Angara, author of important health laws such PhilHealth, the Breastfeeding Law, and the National Institutes of Health, has called for a health summit which will set a roadmap for the Philippine health sector.

This health summit, which will convene in May of this year, will review existing laws on health, assess the curriculum for medical and health sciences education, tackle current efforts on health R&D, and draw up an overall plan for the public financing of health.

"The world has changed dramatically - new technologies have been developed to fight emerging diseases and health crises amidst a background of globalization of the health profession. We need now to set a strategic direction for our health sector. Primarily, we must review how we educate and motivate our health professionals," he said.

Angara said that the curriculum of medical and health sciences education as well as research initiatives must focus on solving the country's top health problems such as the high infant and maternal mortality rate, malnutrition and the emerging diabetes crisis.

The health summit will be organized in cooperation with the Department of Health, the National Institutes of Health based at UP Manila-PGH, and the Angara-formed Congressional Commission on Science, Technology and Engineering (COMSTE).

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