The Philippine Star, 12 November 2011
MANILA, Philippines – Health Secretary Enrique Ona yesterday underscored the need for the Philippines to become “globally competitive” because of the challenges posed by medical tourism.
“While the competence, compassion and communication skills of Filipinos give us an advantage, other countries are also recognizing the opportunities in this global village. Losing out may prove too costly for our country grappling with limited resources for health care,” Ona said during the “1st Philippine Global Healthcare Forum.”
Ona noted that Philippine medical tourism is “moving” but the country has “not truly maximized” its potentials.
“The Philippines had its share of these benefits, but not in the scale of what these other countries were getting. It was only in 2004 that the Philippine Medical Tourism Program, a public-private partnership project, was conceived and launched after the government realized the potential return of medical tourism,” he said.
From 2006 to 2010, the Philippines earned some $350 million from medical tourism, now also known as “medical travel.”
Medical transcription services were able to generate an income of about $94 million for the country last year.
“The number of patients who come to our country for health-related services has continued to grow since then, and if it keeps pace, we may be able to generate a cumulative income amounting to as much as $3 billion from this industry by 2015,” Ona said.
He said it was to medical tourism where some countries in Asia have turned after the 1997 regional financial crisis and other currency problems.
Thailand had become a hub for plastic surgery while India and Singapore positioned themselves as centers for advanced medical and pharmaceutical research in the region.
By 2008, these three countries account for 90 percent of the medical tourism in Asia with Thailand earning some $2.2 billion from medical tourism.
The health chief, however, assured the public that the Philippines has the ingredients to become a hub for international medical travelers.
“We have world-class facilities… Our country is blessed with highly competent physicians, nurses, and allied professionals whose skills are at par with the best in the world and are imbued with the Filipino sense of compassion; and we have many other complementary, advantageous assets: beautiful and picturesque sceneries, hospitable people, and progressive and forward-thinking leaders,” he added.
Ona also gave assurances that the public health system will not be left out even if the country promotes medical tourism. He recognized the need to define the role of this industry “in the greater context of health care needs of the Philippines.”
He said the PPP is an “essential element” in the promotion of medical tourism, thus, benefiting the public health sector.
“Perhaps PPP is the key in making medical tourism contribute to our overall goals for health,” he said.
“Through PPPs we will be able to mobilize private capital, technologies, expertise, and efficiency to improve the health services for our poor countrymen. Financial returns that will be realized through PPP can contribute in the long term to increasing the capacity of the health care system in our country,” Ona said.