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Nearing deployment of 1,000 units DOST hopes RxBox to be commercially available soon

In far-flung areas in the Philippines where mere access to healthcare remains a struggle because of the travel time and costs it will entail for our Kababayans to go to the nearest hospital, rural health units are at the forefront of ensuring that basic health services are delivered using available resources they have.

Dr. Mark Johnuel M. Duavis, a Doctor to the Barrios deployed to Batuan Rural Health Unit,

said that RxBox responds to the need for healthcare’s accessibility, equity, and affordability.

With its built-in medical sensors and system, he added that it helps in an initial assessment

of the patient before transmitting their electronic medical record and transporting the patient

to the facility for proper management and diagnosis.

But even with these efforts, there are cases where healthcare professionals still struggle to properly diagnose patients because of inaccuracy and lack of biomedical devices.

This is where RxBox comes in.

To provide better access to life-saving healthcare services, the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila and UP Diliman developed RxBox and in 2016, deployed prototypes to 115 geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas (GIDA) nationwide. As of this year, 80 provinces have GIDAs (88.89% of the total provinces in the country), according to the Department of Health GIDA Information System.

RxBox is a multi-component program that includes biomedical devices, electronic medical record systems, and training designed to support maternal and child health care and identification. It can reduce the overall cost of healthcare by enabling health workers to diagnose, monitor, and treat patients within rural health facilities.

Among the built-in medical sensors in RxBox are a blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, electrocardiogram (ECG), fetal health monitor, maternal tocometer, and temperature sensor.

With the success of the initial deployment, a succeeding project was drafted initially titled, “Roll-Out of 1000 RxBox Telehealth Devices in Selected Rural Health Centers in the Philippines” which aims to deploy 1,000 units of RxBox to selected rural health centers in the country. The Department of Science and Technology-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) funded the project with DOST-CALABARZON tasked as the lead implementing agency of the said project.

Cooperating agencies include the DOST regional offices, Department of Health (DOH)-Knowledge Management and Information Technology Service, DOH regional offices, UP Manila, UP Diliman-Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute, Philippine General Hospital (PGH), and Ionics EMS, Inc. which is the partner-manufacturer of the RxBox units.

Some of the RxBox units were deployed to PGH and considering the needs brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the DOST Executive Committee has approved the repurposing of the succeeding RxBox Project which is now called, “Roll-out of 1,000 RxBox Telehealth Devices in Selected Healthcare Facilities in the Philippines” which aims to deploy RxBox units specifically to selected COVID-19 referral centers and other healthcare facilities which will meet the selection criteria.

To further support the project and to respond to the limitations imposed during the pandemic, UP has made training videos for the conduct of remote training, and remote onboarding was conducted for the training teams in all the regions.

A Fruit of Collaboration

As of the latest count in January 2023, there are 781 units deployed in the whole country, with 32 units deployed in CALABARZON alone. The remaining units are targeted to be deployed by the end of March 2023.

To celebrate the near end and successful conduct of the project, the DOST-CALABARZON led the RxBox 1000: Summit 2023 with the theme “Smarter Healthcare, Healthier Communities” held in Tagbilaran City, Bohol on 2 March 2023. Regional coordinators, project implementers, and stakeholders attended the event.

In her message, DOST-CALABARZON Director Emelita P. Bagsit thanked the men and women behind the RxBox project.

“We will all share the journey, struggles, and successes of the project. This event is a success story of various people coming together, using their great minds and their drive to create a better and brighter Philippines, and most importantly to celebrate our Kababayans in GIDAs that benefited from the RxBox technology,” she said, adding that she is enthusiastic in the future commercialization and technology transfer of the project.

DOST-VII Regional Director Engr. Jesus F. Zamora, Jr. echoed the same sentiment, saying that the RxBox is a game-changer for those living far from hospitals.

“Congratulate ourselves. We acknowledge that it is not a perfect system, but we aim not for perfection but usefulness. We have heard testimonies of how the RxBox touched and made a difference to their lives,” he said.

‘Health is wealth’

Further, DOST Secretary Renato U. Solidum Jr. in his message, said the RxBox project is “a testament to what we can accomplish together as one—guided by our vision to bring Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) closer to our communities.”

He said that the recent COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to address the problem of access to quality healthcare, which the RxBox was developed for even before the start of the pandemic.

“Through the RxBox multi-stakeholder project, we have immensely contributed to saving lives, especially during the height of the pandemic. Through our courageous and dedicated employees, we were able to reach far-flung and isolated places to deliver S&T interventions. This entails working closely with the communities that we serve and respond to their needs. This project will continue to transform healthcare and people’s lives as long as we continue to work as one,” he said.

He also added that Filipinos often overlook the importance of health, but we must keep in mind that the greatest asset and most important natural resources of any country is its citizens.

“As the old adage goes, “Health is Wealth”. The overall health of every citizenry determines the long-term progress of their country. People are the wealth generators, so we must take care of them,” he said.

Incidentally, Sec. Solidum said that affordable healthcare and strengthening primary healthcare in underserved communities are among the priorities of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.

“We at DOST share these goals and will continue to be instrumental in developing innovative solutions that will prepare our country to withstand another pandemic should there be a similar experience in the future, and to promote the health and well-being of our kababayans. The DOST, through the DOST- PCHRD together with our partners in government, academe and private sector, will continue to support health research and development (R&D) and help strengthen the health industry of the country.”

‘Totally worth it’

In his message, DOST-PCRHD Executive Director Jaime C. Montoya said that seeing many rural communities benefit from the project made it “totally worth it.”

Spanning the administrations of four Philippine presidents and four DOST secretaries, Montoya said that efforts from the conceptualization of the RxBox Project in 2009 up to the actual deployment are really worth it, definitely worth it.

“If there is a technology that really benefits the Filipino people, this is it. The RxBox really captures the concept of Universal Health Care. This is what science is for,” he said.

RxBox, he said, is a good example of the whole-of-country approach - that everyone has to converge for the grassroots.

What now?

With the end of the project nearing, Dr. Montoya said that the only way to reach each and every Filipino is the full-blown commercialization of the RxBox.

He shared that the project is in the most crucial part now - its commercialization - that would ensure wider access and use of the RxBox system for public and private users.

He boasted that RxBox has shown that it can adapt to the changing times and respond to the changing needs of the communities. He especially cited that it was able to help achieve the sustainable development goal of reducing maternal and child mortality and most importantly, the restrictions imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

With this, he issued a call for the Department of Health to help achieve the vision of pushing for the commercialization of the technology.

I'm very confident that DOH, being already our partner, will be able to help us and most importantly also the LGUs because they can actually acquire their own RxBox unit,” he said, adding that DOST and PCHRD will continue to oversee the RxBox journey.

Lastly, Sec. Solidum revealed that the Department will be proposing a new RxBox deployment project under its Smart and Sustainable Cities and Communities program to sustain the traction it has so far gained. (30)

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