Thinking Beyond Politics
By Paul Perez
IN a show of force by the Philippine cancer patient community, representatives from over 150 cancer patient support groups and network organizations gathered recently to prioritize the passage of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act.
The townhall session was organized by Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh), a broad national network of cancer patient support organizations, medical societies, and health advocates.
With almost 110,000 new cancer cases per year and over 66,000 cancer deaths per year in the country, cancer is a public health issue, and there is an urgent need for the government to do something to halt the increasing burden of cancer epidemic.
“Our numbers here in the Philippines translate to around 11 new cases and 7 deaths every hour for adult cancers, and around 11 new cases and 8 deaths per day for childhood cancer,” said Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, the coalition co-chair.
Worse, Kara added, many more remain uncounted, unrecorded and unreported.
Cancer needs to be prioritized now. According to projections by WHO, cancer cases will increase by 80% by 2030, or even higher in developing countries, like the Philippines. That will really put much strain on our health systems.
Only legislative action can help reverse this upward surge. As Congress resumes session, the Coalition said it is calling on both houses to prioritize the passage of the proposed National Integrated Cancer Control Act.
“A comprehensive national cancer plan is long overdue,” said Dr. Ramon Severino, the coalition co-chair.
“We need more pathologists, we need more oncologists. We have limited nurses trained in oncology. Our cancer centers are mostly located in Metro Manila, and some big cities. When you all add this up, and compare it with the number of cancer cases, then you will see why we need to act now.”
If enacted into law, the proposed National Integrated Cancer Control Act can help address the different gaps in the cancer control program. Crucially, it looks at the phenomenon as a continuum, from prevention, detection, and diagnosis to early and proper treatment, survivorship, and palliative care.
Oliver Calasanz, another coalition member, said cancer survivors are also almost left alone after being declared cancer-free.
“They still need support. Some are left without jobs, and they see the world differently as they become more cautious.”
In the current version of the bill, all legislators are unanimous in wanting to extend PWD benefits to cancer survivors.
“The proper response to this urgent health issue should be an integrated approach,” said Carmen Auste, a coalition member. “Doing so will cover all aspects of cancer care and at the same time be national in scope so that no cancer patient will be left behind.”
Under the bill, a Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF) — a supplemental fund to support the medical and treatment assistance programs for patients — will be created, in response to the financial burden that the disease typically imposes.
“The financial burden can be overwhelming, given that financial risk protection mechanisms are limited and patients often need to shell out money from their own pockets to pay for treatment and other costs,” said Dr. Rachel Rosario, a coalition member.
She added: “There is a high incidence of treatment non-compliance and abandonment due to high out-of-pocket payment in relation to the financial capacity of patients and their families.”
If the bill gets the nod of Congress, a Cancer Care Infrastructure and Service Delivery Network will be set into motion, where Regional Cancer Care Centers will be strengthened or set up, with the capability of making available and accessible, high quality cancer services such as screening, diagnosis, optimal treatment and care, supportive and palliative care, supported by well-trained team with proper equipment.
The regional cancer centers will likewise provide for separate units and facilities for children and adolescents with cancer. The bill will also push for oncology-related academic curricula for higher educational institutions (HEIs).
In the Senate, 16 senators have endorsed the bill, led by Senators JV Ejercito, Sonny Angara, Loren Legarda and Nancy Binay. In the House of Representatives, over 200 members have signed the substitute version of the bill, led by authors Reps. Helen Tan (Quezon), Alfred Vargas (5th Dist QC), Karlo Nograles (1st District Davao), Jericho Nograles, (PBA Partylist), Chiqui Roa Puno (1st District Antipolo City) and Bernadette Herrera-Dy (BH Partylist).
Paul Perez is convenor and spokesperson of Cancer Coalition Philippines.