THE United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has invested more than P14 billion in health programs in the Philippines in the last five years.
The more than P14.6 billion ($260 million) it sent between 2018 and 2023 went toward addressing tuberculosis (TB) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), as well as promoting family planning, community-based drug rehabilitation and mental health, and in the later years, supporting the country’s response to Covid-19, the development agency said in a statement Friday, Feb. 2, 2024.
In Manila, Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Teodoro Herbosa said: “The DOH is honored to be a partner of USAID in strengthening health systems, promoting positive social norms and behaviors, and improving the quality of primary health care.”
Herbosa made the remarks at an event commemorating the completion of USAID health programs implemented in the Philippines between 2018 and 2023.
USAID Assistant Administrator for Global Health Dr. Atul Gawande, who was in the Philippines from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1, reaffirmed the United States government's partnership with the DOH in addressing health challenges.
During his visit, Gawande met with Herbosa and other government partners to find ways to strengthen primary health care in line with the Philippines’ universal health care goals.
Through “Primary Impact,” the USAID's flagship program to enhance the delivery of primary health care in partner countries, USAID supported the DOH and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. to roll out universal health care, preventing families from falling into poverty due to health care costs. The Philippines is among USAID's seven focus countries for the “Primary Impact” program.
"The Philippine government is pursuing an ambitious plan to radically strengthen primary health care—the key scaffolding to enable longer life and better health for all Filipinos,” Gawande said. “USAID is proud to be a partner in ensuring the plan's success."
TB and HIV
According to USAID, its partnership with the DOH enabled more than 750,000 people with TB to be identified and gain access to treatment. Indeed, between 2022 and 2023 alone, the TB case notification rate grew 36 percent.
"Through the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, USAID contributed to revolutionizing the Philippines’ HIV response by enrolling more than 24,800 people on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)—an effective HIV prevention drug—and starting almost half of the country’s HIV treatment clients on the optimized drug regimen, TLD, which has fewer side effects," USAID added.
According to HIV.gov, a US Government website managed by the US Department of Health and Human Services and supported by the Minority HIV/AIDS Fund, PEPFAR is the largest commitment by any country to address a single disease in history.
Since PEPFAR’s inception in 2003, the U.S. government has spent over $100 billion to respond to the threat of HIV/AIDS in more than 50 countries, saving over 25 million lives and preventing HIV infections, HIV.gov said.
According to the website, PEPFAR is the United States' contribution to the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of ending the AIDS (Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) pandemic as a public health threat by 2030.
In the Philippines, USAID supported the DOH in digitally tracking its supply chain at national and regional levels to help ensure that life-saving medicines and supplies are always available.
The US agency also developed treatment protocols for the community-based drug rehabilitation of low- and moderate-risk users, and established community-based drug rehabilitation services in 22 local government units.
On World Neglected Tropical Diseases Day on Jan. 30, Gawande witnessed the launch of the “Philippine Multi-Disease Elimination Plan,” which had been developed with technical advisory support from USAID.
USAID also trained health workers in spreading information and monitoring cases of lymphatic filariasis, a parasitic disease spread by infected mosquitoes that affects the lymph nodes and lymph vessels.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the national public health agency of the United States, Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) are a group of parasitic and bacterial diseases that cause tremendous suffering because they are "disfiguring, debilitating and sometimes deadly."
They are called “neglected” as, for the most part, they have been wiped out in the more developed parts of the world. But the CDC warned that 149 countries and territories are affected by at least one NTD.
According to the Field Epidemiology Training Program Alumni Foundation Inc., six of the 17 NTDs identified by the World Health Organization are endemic in the Philippines: lymphatic filariasis, schistosomiasis, soil-transmitted helminthiases, food-borne trematodiases, rabies and leprosy.
During his stay in Manila, Gawande also gave a lecture at the University of the Philippines on the importance of building strong primary health care systems to contribute to economic development and stability.
He also discussed with National Poison Management and Control Center officials the need to address lead poisoning, which severely affects the health, development and learning of children.
Gawande also visited health facilities in Quezon City and Bataan to better understand the challenges the communities face and explore options to bolster Filipinos’ access to quality health care, USAID said.