While highly urbanized cities in the Philippines generate most of the country’s economic activity by value, they are all highly dependent on surrounding rural communities. These places don’t just supply the food that cities require, they also provide much of the needed labor and the raw materials their more prominent urban counterparts need to thrive. But one of the biggest concerns among rural folk is their health. Here are 5 things that can help improve health in rural communities.
Nation-building: Improve Health in Rural Communities
As such, addressing the healthcare access gap between Filipinos in urban and rural areas is not only a matter of achieving equity but also of laying the foundations for more sustainable prosperity. Here are some strategies for improving the health of rural communities that have seen success in the Philippines as well as overseas.
1.) Provide Access to Clean, Sustainably-Managed Water
Access to clean water is a requisite for better health in any community. This is especially true for countries with historically high rates of waterborne illnesses, such as the Philippines. Recognizing this, better water infrastructure is being developed by the national government and its private partners throughout the countryside.
There are some key improvements to water infrastructure that is currently being developed for rural communities. First is the emphasis not just on access but also on ensuring that the water delivered is of high quality, to prevent waterborne illness. The second is a focus on using available water supplies sustainably, given the effects of climate change and the future healthcare needs of a growing population.
2.) Develop Countryside Road Networks
While the policy conversations surrounding countryside roads often hinge on their economic utility, these should also be considered as part of public health infrastructure. Transportation is considered to be a medical intervention, as prompt access to hospitals can literally mean life or death for many patients. Having a wider network of quality country roads can thus not only increase economic opportunities but improve medical outcomes in served communities as well.
3.) Focus on Preventative Medical Interventions
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This is more than just a cliché. The cost-savings benefits of preventative care are real and attested to by decades of studies. A focus on preventative care has resulted in Cuba, one of the poorest countries in the world, having healthcare outcomes that rival the world’s richest countries. This has relevance not just in developing or middle-income nations like the Philippines, but also in far wealthier countries as well.
Throughout the world, there are divides in the quality of healthcare in cities and rural communities due to available funding. A restructuring of focus towards preventative care can empower rural local government units to do much more with available funding, not only preserving the health of local community members but also improving their quality of life and reducing their potential financial burdens.
4.) Expand Rural Digital Infrastructure
As with road networks, the benefits of digital infrastructure in the countryside also extend into the sphere of healthcare. Today, most rural Filipinos have access to a smartphone or computer, even if they may not necessarily own them. If they have access to a reliable internet connection, this opens up the possibility for more Filipinos to access telemedicine services.
Thanks to the efforts of the national government and its private partners, digital access in the countryside has improved significantly since the start of the 2020s. What this means is that more patients may get in touch with doctors for consultations and checkups, wherever they are in the country. This increases healthcare access for sick and incapacitated patients from isolated communities.
Additionally, digital infrastructure can also serve as a way to educate far-flung communities about preventative medicine, hygiene, and sanitation. This can help build good habits that ultimately reduce the healthcare burden on future generations.
5.) Incentivize Medical Professionals to Continue Serving Rural Communities
In the Philippines, part of the reason for poor access to healthcare is the relative scarcity of doctors and nurses in the countryside. While better roads, safer water supplies, preventative medicine, and more robust digital infrastructure saves lives, there will always be medical conditions that require the direct intervention of a doctor or other medical professionals.
Though there are national programs intended to solve this very problem, including the Philippine National Rural Physician Deployment Program, the incentives for participants remain relatively uncompetitive compared to urban or overseas opportunities.
While improvements in various infrastructure areas are set to improve working conditions in many rural communities, policymakers may need to consider additional incentives that will encourage more doctors and nurses to build their careers in the countryside.
A Healthier Philippine Countryside
Thanks to the efforts of various public and private agencies and institutions, access to healthcare is gradually improving in communities throughout the Philippines. While there is much work left to be done, smarter investments may, with time, help rural Filipinos enjoy better health and economic prosperity.