ZFF IDEAS: Insights from the 2015 Health Leaders’ Conference (HELECON)

How can the public and private sectors work together to improve the Philippine public health system?


For the first ZFF National Health Leaders Conference (HELECON) held in November 2015, the Zuellig Family Foundation (ZFF) gathered various health leaders not only to address the current state of the public health system, but also to share initiatives and good practices. Conference participants included political leaders, public health officers, health advocates, academicians, NGOs and government policymakers. 

Last week, I attended the ZFF IDEAS (Interaction, Dialogue with Experts, Academe and Stakeholders). Hosted by ZFF Project Manager Dr. Ellen Licup Medina, ZFF IDEAS was a forum that shared the lessons and insights from the 2015 HELECON, and how strategies formulated then can be aligned with the Duterte administration health agenda.


ZFF IDEAS participants were given a copy of IMPETUS, a document on the HELECON that contained the transcripts from the conference.

zff ideas - impetus

Presentations of Lessons Learned from HELECON

The first speaker was Mr. Ernesto Garilao, ZFF President. He presented “Systems-based Approach and Leader-Driven Interventions to Address Health Inequities.” Mr. Garilao recalled how the devolution of the Philippine health care system in 1991 resulted to inequitable health outcomes. He then cited the critical role of local leaders in improving Philippine public health.

Dr. Bien Eli Nillos, ZFF Director, spoke on “The Critical Role of the Community to Improve Health Outcomes.” Sharing the experience of Gamay, an isolated and disadvantaged municipality in Samar, Dr. Nillos presented the idea of institutionalizing barangay health boards and inter-barangay health zones to enable communities to be responsible for their own health programs.

Presentation of Proposals to Duterte health Agenda

The third presentation by Prof. Marilyn Lorenzo focused on “Reconfiguring Primary Health Care within the Context of Universal Health Care: Proposals to the Duterte Health Agenda.” The state of primary health care in the Philippines magnifies the problem of inequity in the country. Prof. Lorenzo proposes that the Philhealth replaces its benefit package system with a needs-based system. She also tackled the demand side of the healthcare equation, citing the importance of stakeholders’ buy-in and accountability.

Reactions to Presentations

A panel of reactors that included former Health Secretaries Ernesto Ona and Jaime Galvez Tan shared their respective experiences in public health service, as well as their recommendations to the health agenda.

ZFF IDEAS - Dr Jaime Galvez Tan

A common thread in the forum was the proposal to create community-based organizations that could provide faster and wider access to primary health care services.

Key Takeaways

The presentation on the state of the Philippine public health system through the years was an eye-opener for me. It was troubling to know that while neighboring countries show vast improvements in health outcomes, our own country’s improvements have lagged behind. And with the same problems and challenges still persisting.

My takeaway from the whole session was that politics still plays an active role in the decision-making process in many health care issues in the country. I could sense an agreement in the room that the present national budget for health has significantly improved from previous levels. Still, there’s a need for a cultural shift towards real service orientation, to instill a service-oriented mindset, more so by public officials for effective implementation of programs.

Sounds daunting, but we hear about ZFF’s positive experience with its partner LGUs, and we have reason to hope for vastly improved health outcomes in the near future, especially in basic indicators like infant mortality rate and maternal mortality rate.

It was heartwarming to learn from ZFF IDEAS about Zuellig’s initiatives to help LGUs, specifically those in remote areas, in improving the delivery of health services.

On my part, as a beneficiary of health services, I pledge to support initiatives that empower public officials and health service providers to bring about a more  effective and affordable delivery of primary care services.

What’s really needed is to strengthen collaboration as well as consensus-building among stakeholders and partners in both private and public sectors to achieve our collective vision of “All for Health and Health for All.” 


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