By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Health is wealth. Time and time again we hear this statement, only because this cliche is true. From the time we are born, we are taught to eat well, play and exercise, and look after our bodies and our health so that we can lead and live better lives. No matter how careful we are in taking care of our health, however, unfortunate circumstances can make us suddenly sick and unhealthy, such as an accident or a genetic predisposition to a disease. On the other hand, some are not as caring toward their bodies as they should, which makes them susceptible to disease, too.
Economics is defined as a social science that focuses on how individuals distribute finite resources, depending on their wants and needs. Health economics puts the principles of economics in the study of health and health care, including health-related issues such as smoking or obesity, and how they impact society and costs of care in a region. Moreover, it covers the value of health in general, the demand and supply of health care, and also the planning and budgeting of care in an area, among others. The aim of health care, regardless of race, status, age, or location, is to be as accessible and useful to everyone. Health care, however, in other countries, most especially those in the first world, are more effective and efficient than those in the third-world. For example, the best health care systems in the world, ranked by the US-based Commonwealth Fund, based on 11 criteria including access, equity, care process, efficiency, and outcomes are all first-world countries, with the United Kingdom at the top, followed by Australia, and the Netherlands. The worst ones, according to the World Health Organization, are war-stricken areas, developing countries, or both—Sierra Leone, Myanmar, and the Central African Republic. The Philippines’ state of health care comes somewhere in the middle, and this may be because while the presence of state health care insurance in the country is provided by PhilHealth—supporting 85 percent of Filipinos—it still is not enough, considering its benefits can only cover a small portion and Filipinos still have to shoulder the bigger share of the costs. This goes to show that accessibility is not enough. In fact, better practices, rather than increased funding, can improve public health and reduce health care costs. Issues like these need to be studied more as we are dealing with health care that is an important measure of a country’s prosperity.
Several evidence-based control policies have been established to promote good health without shelling extra funds. These best practices are tapped for the following most common health concerns:
For tobacco smoking, it was found out that price is a major factor determining use. The most cost-effective tobacco control policy is raising taxes because it increases the cost, therefore lessening consumption. Also, mass media campaign is an effective method to lessen tobacco use, particularly in areas where there is little knowledge of the hazardous health consequences of tobacco. Other recommended best practices for tobacco are smoking restrictions in public places, labeling of the package indicating the hazards of use, and advertising bans.
Unhealthy diet and physical inactivity
Best practices are also established for unhealthy diet and physical inactivity since these are leading factors for morbidity and mortality. Policies and programs are being made to reduce the risk of chronic conditions and obesity as a result of these two. Examples are the policies aimed at altering the prices of less healthy foods (like instant noodles) through the use of taxes on foods high in salt, sugar, and fat. Moreover, product reformulation policies focusing at reducing the salt content of processed foods were found to be cost-saving. Making healthy food choices (e.g. fruits and vegetables) more available at schools were found to direct a positive effect on intake. Other studies that were also found to be effective are nutrient labeling, food advertising regulation to children, and mass media health education campaign to reduce consumption of salt, cholesterol levels, and saturated fat.
Road injuries contribute a large proportion to death and fatal disabilities that can be prevented with best practices. Many of these injuries can be avoided through investment in cost-effective road safety policies. Example of studies promoting traffic-calming measures are advisory 20mph speed limits, use of roundabouts to restrict speed, use of sealed road shoulders, and separate pedestrian schemes/roundabouts/cycleways/priority junctions.
Protecting mental health and preventing depression
Poor mental health has a lifelong impact to a person. It is now being recognized as widespread even in our happy country, the Philippines. Several cost-saving studies have been performed in European countries and have been found successful. The two most common are prevention of post-partum depression by health visitors assessing risk of post-partum depression routinely for new mothers, and workplace mental health promotion programs such as stress management and e-mail cognitive behavioral therapy.
The three most cost effective alcohol policies for reducing alcohol-related harm are price increase, restriction on availability, and bans on advertising. Just like tobacco use, tax can be used to favor products containing lower alcohol levels. Banning the advertising of alcohol is estimated to be very cost effective measure if fully enforced (Anderson 2009).
The country is facing a long road when it comes to providing quality health care for Filipinos. With new initiatives, however, there is hope for the country to get there sooner. Better policies, newer health care system strategies, and better communication down to the least privileged citizens are needed to improve the country’s care and even public health. Individually, what we can do is invest in our own health and wellbeing. Good health is, indeed, our greatest asset.