Speech of President Aquino, 37th International College of Surgeons World Congress

His Excellency Benigno S. Aquino III
President of the Philippines
At the 37TH International College of Surgeons World Congress
[November 19, 2010, Diamond Hotel, Manila]
Secretary Enrique Ona; Dr. Ernesto Acosta; Professor Christopher Chen; Dr. Jesus Sison; Dr. Nicasio Salang Jr.; Dr. Martin Teodoro, members of the International College of Surgeons, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen, a very pleasant good morning to all of you.
Hopefully, the Good Lord will grant me enough blessings that whenever I see such a talented pool of people, it will be on a non-professional basis.
It is a pleasure to be with you this morning. Let me first congratulate the International College of Surgeons (ICS) on your 61st Annual Convention. For over six decades, you have shown the world your commitment to improve the lives of patients through continuous surgical education and practice. Gatherings such as this not only allow you to exchange professional knowledge and establish friendships, but also give you an opportunity to create mutual respect and understanding in an international level.

I am very happy that the International College of Surgeons chose Manila as the venue for your 37th World Congress. To our foreign guests, I invite you to take time to visit our historical sites, meet our beautiful people, discover our breathtaking attractions, and be acquainted with the Philippine culture. I am also glad that despite being given only nine months to prepare for this event, the ICS-Philippine Section stepped up to the plate, to show you not just our well-known hospitality, but our capability to host important, international gatherings.
From new vaccines for measles and polio, to increasingly successful treatments for cancer, from breakthrough surgical techniques such as microsurgery, to improved cure for AIDS, the medical world is truly making leaps and bounds. However, in spite of these developments, many of our people have yet to avail of quality surgical care. Other illnesses such as stroke, heart attack and cancer have likewise driven many of our people to poverty. At present, there is a lack of surgeons in many areas of the country. Public health clinics in rural areas lack not only medical professionals, but also adequate health facilities. Worse, some rural folk refuse to seek treatment due to high costs. This worrisome evidence of poverty—in both body and spirit—is something we are completely committed to reducing through better access to your services.
Our success as a nation is dependent upon our capacity to empower the greater portion of our people—the poor. Those who have less in life need the most protection, especially when it comes to their well-being. To address this need, my administration has committed much of government’s resources towards improving our country’s education, health care and other social services.
In the area of healthcare, there is much more that needs to be done, but here is what we have done so far. We have increased the budget of the Department of Health by 13.6 percent for next year. Much of that money will go to the augmentation of public health centers. We are also pursuing universal health care, particularly for our poor countrymen to protect them not only from the undesirable effects on health, but also from the adverse financial implications of diseases, illnesses, and emergencies. We aim to do this by improving the coverage and benefits of our national health insurance under the PhilHealth. Two months ago, the government, through the Department of Health conducted the National PhilHealth Registration Day, and enrolled more than 192,000 poor families. We are expecting to enroll more indigent families in the coming weeks, as we have proposed 3.5 billion pesos in the DOH budget for this purpose. Our aim is to insure about 4.6 million indigent Filipino families in three years or less. The government, through information campaigns, continues to encourage the enrolment of those who can afford and should join the program. The DOH estimates that there are an additional 5 million families from the informal sector who are not yet enrolled in Philhealth.
We are currently on track in meeting our Millennium Development Goal targets of reducing maternal, infant, and child mortality by 2015. We want our mothers to give birth in health facilities with at least the basic emergency maternal and neonatal care services. This is to ensure that they do not die unnecessarily of childbirth complications. Community health teams composed of dedicated doctors, nurses, and midwives shall be deployed especially to the poorest areas to prioritize those who need our health services the most. These teams shall actively assist families in addressing and assessing their health needs.
The march towards universal health care is not just for the government to undertake. I’m sure you realize how your chosen field requires, not only skill, but dedication and genuine compassion. I salute all of you here for choosing this vocation. Surgery is truly a noble endeavor; one that can significantly accelerate the achievement of our desire to provide universal health care to all. I salute ICS for sending qualified teaching surgeons to developing countries for the task of sharing up-to-date surgical advancements and techniques with our local surgeons. May you continue to offer your best surgical practices on treatment and prevention, and remain to be advocates in providing first-class surgery to less-fortunate people. I hope that this will just be the beginning of our cooperation and partnership towards making surgical care more accessible to more Filipinos.
I am thankful that many of you are now engaged in charity work through surgical missions. I hope it is not too much to ask for a little more of your time for the poor. I also ask you to share with our primary health care providers in the countryside your surgical knowledge and skills. This is to equip our rural health units and district hospitals with basic surgical services that will address trauma and ensure appropriate referral of common surgical complaints. We welcome the assistance of our balikbayan surgeons, as well as their friends, peers, and fellow doctors from foreign shores, who are willing to share their time and expertise.
Yesterday, we launched our Public-Private Partnership program called Infrastructure Philippines, which encourages the private sector to become an ally of the government in people empowerment and nation building. Through this, we invite investors to participate in infrastructure projects, which would otherwise have been funded alone by the government. This will allow us to free up government funds, which we can channel and allocate to much-needed social services such the improvement of our health system, as well as in other targeted social safety net programs. Through your medical expertise, we encourage you to inculcate the same spirit of communal responsibility as you improve the lives of those who have immediate medical needs.
As you go through your convention discussing the latest surgical breakthroughs, may you always be reminded that the hopes and dreams of thousands of patients rest on your shoulders; please do not let them down. Hand in hand, let us make health services more accessible to more Filipinos, especially those in the far-flung areas. I am confident that through this convention, your desire to be globally competitive will be translated into appropriate surgical care and improved health outcomes.
Thank you and good day.