$600-M ADB loan to help PH provide universal health care

MANILA – The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a USD600-million policy-based loan to help the Philippines provide quality and equitable health services for all Filipinos as part of its universal health care (UHC) reform program.

The Build Universal Health Care Program seeks to support the government’s initiatives to improve the financing and delivery of health services and implement measures to monitor the performance of health service providers.

The Philippines enacted the UHC Act in February 2019 to ensure Filipinos have equitable access to quality health services and avoid high out-of-pocket health expenses. It includes a series of reforms planned over several years.

“The Covid-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) pandemic has highlighted existing constraints in the country’s health care service delivery, which the government sought to address in its pandemic health response. This program seeks to boost the government’s ability to achieve its UHC goals and provide timely and equitable health care services, especially for the poor and marginalized across the country,” ADB Director of Human and Social Development for Southeast Asia Ayako Inagaki said in a statement Friday.

The Philippines has automatically included all Filipinos in its National Health Insurance Program, as part of its UHC reform.

It also mobilized revenues from higher taxes on alcohol, sweetened beverages, tobacco, and heated tobacco and vapor products to help finance UHC and expand primary care services.

“This new ADB program will help the government boost financing for UHC, expand the supply of health facilities and workers, enable the integration of health care providers, and enhance health system efficiency,” ADB Principal Health Specialist for Southeast Asia Eduardo Banzon said.

The program will expand the use of digital tools for the sector and ensure sharing of data among health information systems and databases.

It will bolster the implementation capacity of the Department of Health and the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., and strengthen collaboration with other government agencies, local government units (LGUs), and the private sector.

It will support LGUs’ efforts to expand health promotion and help improve access to health care workers and health care facilities, particularly in underserved LGUs.

In addition to the loan, the ADB will administer a USD2-million technical assistance grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to support the implementation of health policy reforms in LGUs.

The ADB will provide technical advice as the government prepares to implement the next set of UHC-related reforms by 2023.

The new program is part of ADB’s 2018-2023 Country Partnership Strategy for the Philippines and supports its focus on increasing social investments in Filipinos from lower socioeconomic groups.

Ongoing ADB programs, projects, technical assistance, and grants in the health sector, including those started during the pandemic, complement support for the Philippines’ UHC reforms.

Among these are the USD500-million loan for the Disaster Resilience Improvement Program, the USD125-million loan for the Health System Enhancement to Address and Limit Covid-19 (HEAL), the USD400-million loan for the Second Health System Enhancement to Address and Limit Covid-19 under the Asia-Pacific Vaccine Access Facility, and the USD3-million grant for a new Covid-19 testing laboratory in San Fernando, Pampanga. (PR)

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