Primary health care in the Philippines: Banking on the barangays?
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Primary health care has been hailed by some countries as the only practical means of providing any form of health care for expanding populations in poor economies. This is particularly true in Third World countries where the cost explosion of technology-oriented health care has been a major problem in extending services. Therefore, the PHC package of education, nutrition, preventive medicine and treatment of the most common diseases and injuries is sometimes regarded as the most beneficial application of scarce resources. The Philippines claims to be one of the first (perhaps the first) countries to have adopted PHC as a national strategy for health care and, since 1981, impressive achievements have been attained in this sector by contrast with reversals in many other sectors of the economy. PHC has not challenged the pre-eminence of Metro-Manila in the provision of hospital and specialist facilities but it has extended some basic care particularly to rural regions of the country. This paper reviews the background to health care in the Philippines and it then examines the implementation of PHC in Negros Oriental, where PHC has taken on the additional feature of special use of indigenous materials and resources. The administrative, financial and legal bases and some geographical facets of PHC are highlighted in this province. The campaign relies heavily on local (barangay) initiatives and community participation, in part to minimise resources which have to be devoted to health in a very troubled national economy. In spite of local skills and enthusiasm, this arguably still involves the abrogation of a degree of government responsibility for health care. As a result, the Philippines strategy may be said to be "banking on the barangays."