The culmination of HTAsialink 2018, held in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was when the young researchers from the different health technology assessment (HTA) agencies received awards for their research presentations. Witnessing the award ceremony greatly inspired us, and we vowed that in the following year, the Philippines will also be able to bag awards. Since then, the HTA team had conducted a considerable number of researches from the identified priority topics and submitted these abstracts to this year’s annual HTAsialink conference. We felt ecstatic that in fact, three oral and two abstract presentations were chosen from our country. To maximize the opportunities given to us, we requested technical support from HITAP for us to be able to present the research as effective as possible. We are very thankful that Dr. Yot and his team commented on how to improve our presentation and prepared us for the question and answer portion.

This was the second time for our team to attend the annual HTAsialink conference and we looked forward to the unique experiences that the conference would bring. One of the most memorable experiences was the pre-conference workshop on HTA challenges through South-South Knowledge Exchange organized by HITAP, wherein countries including Bhutan, Kenya, and Zambia shared their ongoing challenges as well as achievement towards institutionalising HTA. In Bhutan, what I found fascinating was that even at a country with a small population, which is less than a million, it was still difficult to move HTA forward. However, as mentioned, with mostly doctors serving in the current cabinet, the window of opportunity for health reforms opened. The key takeaways we had were the essentials for HTA to move forward, and this included political support, legal framework, realignment of fragmented HTA-related processes, transparency and independence (with explicit criteria), and leverage on local and network resources (HITAP and IDSI), all of which were similar to what my country currently strives for.

Deepika Adhikari, a representative from Bhutan in the South-South Knowledge Exchange pre-conference workshop

Another aspect of the pre-conference worth mentioning was its World Cafe style where everyone shared their experience and proposed solutions on topics including the need for political commitment, balancing public resources, organization of a core HTA agency, and HTA capacity and retention system. For the team, it was a fruitful discussion when we learned how others addressed these problems and their vision on how to streamline the HTA process in their respective countries. We are indeed lucky that we live in the era of transitioning to a more inclusive evidence-based decision making.

As for the plenary sessions, one thing I will not forget about was Professor Tony Culyer’s speech, especially the part where he discussed how the formula of social value judgements and the science of medicine and economics will lead to better decisions. Furthermore, we also heard about the HTA set-up in other countries including Spain, Sweden, and the countries from South America. Some highlights included the presence of coordinated priority setting process in Spain, the availability of 80 PhD staff that are able to produce HTA reports in 2 to 3 months through appraisal and performing systematic reviews in Sweden, and the development of a regional database called RedETSA for South America.

We also attended and listened to various oral presentations, and we actually observed and learned how the research findings should be discussed and presented so that policymakers and other stakeholders will better grasp the key messages. Valuable comments from the panel including positioning and emphasizing certain words may actually polish or break the message of the presentation. As mentioned by Professor Ryota Nakamura, it was important to organize and to provide proper emphasis on the contents of the slides, but at the same time the presenter must be able to complement the information presented. In summary, the presenter and his/her presentation must become one.

We did not expect that the Philippines will actually win three major awards in the oral presentation, including the third place in Health System Research Category, and the top two places in the Economic Evaluation Category. This was a great feat for a team that attended the HTAsiaLink conference for just the second time. To us, this was just a dream in the last conference. This made us feel that we are going into the right direction and this will help us get recognised and therefore easier for the country to seek help from the network

From left to right: Diana Bayani (1st place, Economic Evaluation track), Anne Julienne Marcelo Genuino (2nd place, Economic Evaluation track, Geovin Dexter Uy (3rd place, Health System Research track)

Lastly, as mentioned in the panel discussion, the needs and readiness of the country for HTA relies on the technical capacity beyond economic evaluation (health systems research). Trust and credibility to the HTA practice, right leadership and right timing, ability to influence influencers through effective communications strategies, the right mindset on evidence-based policymaking, and having business model for the overall HTA institutionalisation are also essential. These aspects enlighten our perspective to strive more towards HTA institutionalisation in the Philippines. Looking forward to HTAsialink 2020 in Bali!

About the authors

Geovin Dexter Uy, Pharmacist III Health Tecnology Assessment Unit, Pharmaceutical Division, Department of Health, the Philippines

Bernadette joy Almirol, Development Management Officer IV (Data Scientist), Health Systems Development and Management Support Division, Department of Health, the Philippines