This interview features Samuel Madriaga, a student at the University of the Philippines - Manila and the Chief Executive at the Alliance of Public Health Advocates.
How did you become a youth leader in health?
My journey in health advocacy has been rooted in my childhood dream of becoming a medical doctor to help cure my mother of her experienced heart conditions and to take care of my family and the people who are in need of healthcare services. Back then, I just wanted to become part of the medical field to offer medical services to my future patients and hope that they would achieve positive well-being from such treatment. However, when I entered the University of the Philippines - Manila as a BS Occupational Therapy student, I realized that health advocacy is more than just the biomedical aspect of promoting human health - that health goes beyond the presence of biological disease. By experience, learning, and immersion with some of the great people in health advocacy, I was able to understand that health advocacy is about how you elevate the dignity of every Filipino by championing a more accessible, inclusive, and empowering healthcare system that is well-fitted to respond to their physical, mental, and social health needs and concerns.
With these in mind, I started to bring my advocacy to our college as I got the honor to serve as the Chairperson of the UP Manila College of Allied Medical Professions Student Council and advocate for social inclusion and the empowerment of persons with disabilities. I also participated in several health projects, fellowship programs, and campaigns which equipped me with greater knowledge of youth health leadership and community management. These became the key drivers for my colleagues and me to establish the Alliance of Public Health Advocates which is the first youth-led health organization in San Pablo City, Laguna that aims to elevate youth participation in our local health systems and champion for a more empowering youth health movement in the city and the communities beyond.
What are the most pressing issues that concern Filipino health workers and patients and how do you address these issues?
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen how our national health system, across each of its building blocks, gradually breaks down. From the domain of health governance, we have experienced poor investments in the procurement of quality healthcare facilities, working conditions, and even benefits for our medical workforce leading to several expressed outrage from the said sector and the compromised achievement of positive health outcomes during the pandemic. Despite the overwhelming demands for accessible and responsive healthcare to address COVID-19, our medical front liners continuously suffer from the insufficient and delayed delivery of their Special Risks Allowances and hazard pays, poor working environment and support to protect them from contracting the virus, and a prolonged number of service hours with minimum amounts of compensation. As it has been said before, they are extremely essential but undervalued.
Moreover, these gaps in our health workforce sector greatly translate to the broken national health service delivery mechanisms to address the diverse health needs and concerns of each service user in the country, particularly those who are in the marginalized and disadvantaged sectors. There is still a pervasive demand for more inclusive and accessible information systems, cost-effective and affordable medicines and healthcare services, procurement of accessible state-of-the-art facilities in the communities, and even an equitable distribution of benefits in our health insurance systems. All of these contribute to the limitations that our people experience in achieving a more positive health outcome, especially during the pandemic.
A more systematic and responsive approach is needed to mitigate this gradual collapse of our health system in the country. And it is very significant that we recognize the contributions of each sector in building effective and sustainable frameworks and networks that could be integrated into our existing health systems to support the achievement of a healthier Philippines. As a local youth-led health organization, the Alliance of Public Health Advocates has been working with different policy-driven institutions, organizations, and even local health units in campaigning for a more responsive health community for Filipino healthcare workers and the general population amid the pandemic, procuring sustainable local youth health system through the Healthy Kabataan 2025 agenda, and in designing responsive information delivery systems in pursuit of safer and healthier Filipino communities.
As a youth leader in health, what characteristics are you looking for in a national and local government candidate? How would these characteristics enable the candidate to address the issues that you mentioned?
Any government leader, both at the local and national level, should have the capacity and vision of elevating the dignity of every Filipino citizen through sustainable and effective health governance and management systems. We have already experienced the lack of health leadership in today’s time and we have all suffered from its consequences. That is why we should choose a leader who grounds himself in the values that would strengthen and transform the Philippine health system - the kind of leaders who are people-centered, innovative, and accountable.
In order to inflict an effective and transformative health reform, a leader should know how to take care of his/her people. Kailangan natin ng mga lider na handang manindigan at ipaglaban kalusugan at kapakanan ng mga bawat isang Pilipino, regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, and disability, gamit ang mga aksyon na tapat at inklusibo para sa lahat. The achievement of our “health for all campaign” could only happen in the hands of those leaders who govern with integrity, who find innovation through collaboration across sectors and institutions, and who genuinely recognize the unique experiences of its people in building a more responsive and resilient society.
As a youth leader in health, what policies and programs do you want national and local government candidates to support? Which of these do you want to be prioritized?
A lot has to be done and lobbied in order for us to achieve a more sustainable health reform in the country. This upcoming #Halalan2022, I hope that our future leaders could comprehensively present their own health agenda to the people. An agenda that would focus on policies that would help strengthen and improve our health service delivery systems for mental health, disability responsiveness, and primary healthcare in the communities. It is very critical for us to impose a more preventive approach to health so that Filipinos could achieve a better quality of life without having to worry about the burdens of the cost of sustaining medical care in hospitals and other health facilities. That is why it is also critical for our leaders to focus on revisiting the provisions of the Universal Health Care Act in the country and solidify its implementation, especially for expanding and increasing the health insurance coverages for Filipinos.
To further strengthen our health systems, it is also significant that our leaders prioritize evidence-based policies that would improve the working conditions, salaries, and benefits of our healthcare workers, interns, and every relevant workforce associated with health along with the establishment of state-of-the-art facilities in each region of the country to cater to the diverse needs of the people for better healthcare. In this time of the pandemic, we are in dire need of strategic and systemic health policies that would uplift the dignity of each Filipino and would protect the welfare of our communities.
Should candidates with these characteristics and priorities succeed in #Halalan2022, how do you envision the Philippines and the lived realities of Filipino health workers and patients in 6 years?
A genuinely safer and healthier Philippines that uplifts the dignity of every Filipino - this is how I see our country if the competent and value-driven leader would be elected this #Halalan2022. If the right leaders are in power, we will be able to see Filipinos enjoying our right to equitable access to quality and affordable healthcare as health workers and experts thrive in an innovative, responsive, and sustainable health system.
This is high time for us to elect leaders who are more than capable of strengthening every building block of our health system for a more progressive and healthier Filipino community. Sulong tayo tungo sa kalusugang panglahat para sa bawat Pilipino!