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Putting cancer care on the national agenda

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#UsapangCancerTreatment highlights multi-stakeholder perspectives


People in some families have what is known as a hereditary cancer syndrome, a cancer risk that runs in the family.

This is the case for Jose Albert, who was diagnosed with stage 2 colon cancer 23 years ago. He shared how access to treatment enabled him to surpass his colon cancer ordeal and live with the disease.

Jose considers himself as one of the fortunate ones able to navigate and manage the burden of cancer, but at the same time, he is using his voice to champion better access for all cancer patients to receive diagnosis, timely and appropriate treatment, funding, and a better chance of beating cancer.

“Once you have cancer, it can be resource-draining. Unfortunately, not all cancer patients, especially the poor and those from the lower income bracket get the proper information on treatment options and get the proper services they need.”

In more than a year, COVID-19 has taken over news headlines and the local health agenda. With the spotlight on COVID, non-communicable diseases like cancer have been deprioritized.

However, it is important to note that cancer is the third leading cause of death in the Philippines. 189 of every 100,000 Filipinos are afflicted with cancer, while four Filipinos die of cancer every hour or 96 patients every day. Access to cancer treatment also continues to be a problem during the pandemic.

Therefore, with or without a pandemic, there is a necessity to include cancer care in the national agenda.

The good news is that the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) guarantees that all cancer patients and cancer survivors regardless of cancer stage, age, ethnicity, gender, religion may have a chance to live more hopeful tomorrows.

“We predict that in 10 years, cancer may be our number one killer,” said Dr. Samuel Ang, Vice-Chairman of the National Integrated Cancer Control (NICC) Council. “[But] because of the NICCA law, there is a ray of hope in the Philippines. NICCA provides the means for funding.”

In this light, the Department of Health, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), MSD in the Philippines’ Hope From Within, and AstraZeneca’s AZ Cares gathered national leaders, health experts, and patients to discuss the national agenda on healthcare and cancer treatment access in #UsapangCancerTreatment — the third episode of the ‘Tita Hope Talks’ cancer conversation series.

Making healthcare a national priority

In her message, Vice President Leni Robredo said: “With the passage of the Universal Healthcare Act, it is our job to ensure that we effectively carry out this health reforms, to enact policies that will push the universal healthcare agenda forward such as empowering our barangay health workers, strengthening health care regulations and creating safeguards so that healthcare systems in local governments are successfully integrated with their provincial counterparts and to ensure that the system is fully funded by strengthening the collaboration between the private and public sector.”

Discussing the effect of the pandemic to cancer patients, Senator Panfilo Lacson shared: “The limitations brought about by this health crisis have also led to reduced diagnosis and treatment of other serious illnesses, including cancer. Cancer is indiscriminate. It sees no bound, age, social class, or gender. Science tells us that early detection can prevent many critical illnesses. I prioritize our programs to make medical intervention affordable, available and accessible.”

Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas recalled efforts done to fund the country’s cancer program. “We successfully included Php 620 million as cancer assistance fund into an overall Php 756 million for the cancer supportive care and palliative care access program in the 2021 national budget. This year, Php 786 million has been allocated in the national expenditure program which will lay the foundations for the 2022 national budget,” Vargas said.

Former Senator JV Ejercito, who became instrumental in the passage of the law, urged fellow legislators to ensure the continuous implementation of the landmark cancer care law.

“I hope that legislators will really fund the cancer control act because cancer is very expensive to treat. A lot of Filipinos are suffering right now. Especially in this time of pandemic, all the more that the NICCA needs to be funded so that people who have cancer will have a new lease in life,” noted Ejercito. “We have to continue the fight. Continue making noise so that this landmark law will be funded, and its implementation becomes a reality.”

What’s next for NICCA?

Key provisions under NICCA include the creation of the Philippine Cancer Center to promote and encourage cancer research, provide training to medical professionals, and house the population-based cancer registry. It also mandated the creation of a Cancer Assistance Fund and the National Integrated Cancer Control Council.

NICCA also states that PhilHealth will expand its benefit packages to include primary care screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment assistance, supportive care, survivorship follow-up care, rehabilitation, and end-of-life care for all types and stages of cancer in both adults and children.

“I envision the NICCA to provide the framework for future cancer centers in both public and private sectors. An area within the Lung Center of the Philippines has been identified as the site for the Philippine Cancer Center, it will be the apex hospital for all government cancer centers where the most difficult cases will be referred,” said Dr. Samuel Ang.

He also said: “One step that NICCA will ensure is the creation of a cancer registry for the whole country to know the real situation of cancer in the Philippines.”

“DOH has designated cancer specialty hospitals around the country. We have also started refurbishing these hospitals so that patients in the provinces will have access to services. We also have support for diagnostics through the cancer assistance fund. There is a budget for cancer medicines, supportive and palliative medicine access program,” shared Dr. Mae Dolendo, member of the NICC Council.

The role of innovation in cancer treatment

A comprehensive cancer care law provides more innovative treatment options for patients.

“In the fight against cancer, the value of innovation has never been more emphasized. We have entered an era of new medicines where we are pushing science to have a meaningful impact on patients,” highlighted Dr. Teodoro Padilla, Executive Director of PHAP.

“Cancer treatment is a complex approach. Different cancers require different treatment approaches and with different outcomes,” noted Mr. Pieter de Richter, Chief Strategy Officer of Ipsos Healthcare.

“If these innovative treatments reach more patients, studies show that patients can enjoy significant life years, progression-free life years. This means that even if a patient is undergoing treatment, one can continue to perform daily activities, enjoy life with less pain and adverse effects. These innovative treatments can make all the difference to a cancer patient,” said Dr. Madeleine Valera, former Health Undersecretary.

#UsapangAccessSaCancerTreatment is the third part of the Hope From Within’s Tita Hope Talks, a series of multi-stakeholder dialogues focused on improving access to quality cancer care for the Filipino patient, especially in the time of pandemic.

This special session on access to treatment is co-presented by the Department of Health, the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), AstraZeneca (AZ Cares) and MSD’s Hope From Within, in collaboration with PSMO, PCS-Can Com and Hi-Precision.


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