The 17th National Health Research Forum for Action (NHRFA) is an event organized by the Department of Health - Health Policy Development and Planning Bureau (DOH-HPDPB), entitled this year as Full Speed AHEAD. True to its theme, the goal of this year’s forum was for all stakeholders, from researchers to policy-makers, to meet and fuel possible collaborations in the future all the while recognizing the vitality of health systems research in evidence-based policy-making to achieve WHO’s SDG 3 or the Universal Health Coverage.

I attended the forum in solidarity for EpiMetrics’ contribution to the event. As one of the institutional grantees of the AHEAD program, we presented our progress on the project “Optimising Health Literacy (OpHeLia) in the Philippines”. This project aims to provide baseline health literacy information, through co-creating interventions with the communities. We were also invited to present the results of the study of “Factors Affecting Drug Pricing in National Public Hospitals”. As part of these projects, I was really excited that they were presented.

Abigail Lim Tan presenting our OpHeLia study.

Before my last semester in college, I knew nothing about public health, particularly the people involved. As this was my first time to attend a health research forum, I had the hopes of meeting people in the same line of work as mine, as well as other epidemiologists that I can learn from. As a statistician and aspiring epidemiologist, I wanted to know how the technicals of public health research happen. I wanted to know how and which methods, be it qualitative or quantitative, are used to solve health research objectives. Since I am also relatively new to the concept of public health research, I wanted to grasp the breadth of health issues being solved through research.

Since the event comprised of breakout sessions, I was only able to attend the Health Financing and Access to Medicines sessions for days 1 and 2, respectively. I enjoyed Health Financing since this was a health building block I am not really familiar with. The session highlighted the goal of universal health care, but also tackled experiences of out-of-pocket expenditures in the patient’s perspective. Attending only 2 sessions saddens me because there was so much to learn in all the research studies presented. However, I am glad that my other workmates exchange notes with me. Knowledge-wise, I am still grateful I learned new things from the forum. An example of this is difference-in-difference regression. I was familiar with it theoretically but seeing it being applied in health care expenditures was another experience altogether. The only downside for me was that I wasn’t able to network during the event.

For me, there is a need to do this more often – a place where researchers can meet. I believe events like this help prevent research duplication and let audiences notice research gaps to be filled. As much as possible, we want national studies to complement each other. I noticed during the open forum that a study similar to one presented during Access to Medicines was already done by another researcher and an attendee kept asking how it was different from their results. The forum then became a good avenue to compare results and see how the two can be integrated. For the research gaps, we are still developing the public health research arena so it is fortunate that we have a repository of existing research, enabling us to learn from one another’s research limitations and eventually do the research recommendations proposed.

Erika Modina presenting our Factors Affecting Drug Pricing study.

There is so much left to do for public health since the researches are only at the tip of the iceberg – we are not even delving into complicated methods for complicated studies. Most studies are novel, while some are proofs of concept or to establish baseline data. Most of the studies presented were also cross-sectional in nature, which is not really applicable in the health-setting in which time and place affects epidemiological characteristics.

The NHRFA should also recognize the importance of inviting other organizations. The practice of having only health professionals should be changed since public health encompasses economics, sociology, and other disciplines. By doing so, the public health community grows through collaboration, innovation and participation of different sectors. While the goal is for more sophisticated research to be produced throughout time - this is a two-way street. Even if we have the best of the best researchers in the field, results depend on the quality of data we collect. Having different sectors working together lead to better chances of achieving this.

As a quantitative researcher and aspiring epidemiologist, I dream of a day when my fundamental knowledge in methods would be integrated to my knowledge in health systems. For now, I appreciate this kind of venture and the welcoming feeling in the field. I can only do so much as a budding researcher but what I can offer is to be an advocate of using statistics to only provide only the truth albeit it being not palatable to policy-makers. Statistics is a great tool in policy-making but it should not be used to deceive the public. If given the chance, I would promote the responsible use of statistics in researches, especially in public health.