The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has resulted in many patients deferring regular checkups and treatment sessions with their doctor. These interruptions in healthcare have been affecting the health and quality of life of our cancer patients.
Early this month, the Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCPh) and members of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) together with the Department of Health (DoH) held the first of a series of virtual fora in order to put a spotlight on the current plight of cancer patients in the country.
“Cancer Conversations: Navigating Cancer with Patients” aimed to give patients important information such as what to do when one is diagnosed with cancer, what the support systems available are under the National Integrated Cancer Control Act of 2019 (NICCA), and where to source funding support, among others.
In partnership with BusinessWorld, it was a fitting day to kick off our virtual fora series, as Feb. 4 is World Cancer Day and the second anniversary of the enactment of the landmark law NICCA is on Feb. 14.
Hosted by writer and director Bibeth Orteza, herself a cancer survivor and patient advocate, the forum featured key stakeholders in Philippine cancer care. Dr. Corazon Ngelangel, president of the Philippine Cancer Society, stressed, “Cancer does not stop just because there is a pandemic. Cancer clinics must be kept open and safe to enable early and continuing patient visits for cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment, and surveillance.” She underscored the NICCA directive to give all cancer survivors and patients Person With Disability (PWD) status.
CCPh was one of the key stakeholders in advocating for the enactment of the NICCA and the drafting of its implementing rules and regulations. CCPh President Paul Perez described NICCA as a landmark law that covers the whole cancer care spectrum from prevention, detection, diagnosis, treatment, palliative and pain management, survivorship, and end of life.
“The main intention of the law is to transform cancer care in our country. But as we all know by now, enacting the law is one thing. Implementing it is another, especially with the challenges posed by the pandemic,” he said, highlighting the importance of funding cancer care, noting that this is always the first concern among cancer patients.
The CCPh is composed of I Can Serve Foundation, Philippine Cancer Society, Cancer Warriors Foundation, Philippine Society of Oncologists, Project: Brave Kids, Carewell Community Foundation, and the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology.
Allison C. Umandap of the DoH Malasakit Program Office discussed sources of support and assistance for cancer patients. To date, there are a total of 100 Malasakit Centers in the country, 98 of which are in DoH hospitals and local government unit hospitals. Malasakit Centers have also been set up in the Philippine General Hospital and Veterans Memorial Medical Center.
The Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) provides medical assistance to qualified cancer patients through their Medical Access Program and Endowment Fund. Cancer patients may seek financial assistance from the DoH Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients as well as from the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).
Northern Samar Representative Paul R. Daza shared the legislative viewpoint on support and assistance for cancer patients. DoH Undersecretary Myrna C. Cabotaje joined Emerito L. Rojas, executive director of the National Council on Disability Affairs, and Mr. Perez in a panel discussion on funding for cancer care. Dr. Manuel Francisco T. Roxas, director of the Cancer Commission of the Philippine College of Surgeons, discussed cancer prevention and early signs and symptoms of the disease.
Taguig Representative Lani Cayetano and Tolosa Mayor Maria Ofelia O. Alcantara shared the cancer care programs in their respective localities, which other local government units may consider emulating. Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations president Ms. Girlie Lorenzo capped the forum with practical advice on how to access healthcare.
We admire our cancer patients for their courage and determination to overcome daunting challenges. We laud patient communities who work hand in hand with the government, the medical community, and the private sector in order to improve cancer care in the country.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical sector in the country.