Amid the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, the country’s health-care system is again being tested, this time on the treatment of cancer patients.
In a recent webinar, Dr. Madeleine Valera, a former Department of Health Undersecretary said the statistics are alarming as more than 141,000 Filipinos were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, with lung cancer and breast cancer being the top cancer sites. Moreover, over 60 percent or 86,337 of those diagnosed died. This means that 236 Filipinos die from cancer daily.
“There are 11 new cases diagnosed daily while seven adults and eight children die every day,” Valera said.
“Definitely, the current pandemic has put our health system to a test. Notwithstanding Covid-19, it should be evaluating and assessing our capacity to deliver the services every Filipino deserves,” she added.
She stressed that treatment for non-communicable diseases such as cancer and diabetes must be continued during the pandemic to ensure Filipinos remain healthy. Failure to give them treatment would worsen their health condition, she added.
Valera said the country also needs to step up in terms of cancer preparedness. According to a 2020 report from the World Cancer Initiative, the Philippines placed 10th out of 10 countries in the Asia Pacific region in cancer care preparedness. Moreover, it showed the Philippines falling well below average in the realms of policy and planning, cancer care delivery and health systems and governance. “With the Covid-19 causing a big challenge, our health system needs to step up,” she said,
Nevertheless, Valera said the Philippines is at par with the low-income countries in Asia-Pacific in terms of cancer care. However, she said the passage of the National Integral Cancer Control Act, now known as the NICCA Law recognizes innovative technologies such as immunotherapy for treating cancer.
“We maybe number 10 but we have the NICCA Law. This will address the government’s effort with regards to cancer prevention and control. We have to fully close the gaps in assessing the treatment so we can help Filipinos with regards to cancer. If we have innovative treatment options such as immunotheraphy, this will enable Filipinos to enjoy more life years,and additional health gains from five to 10 folds,” Valera explained.
“There’s hope for cancer patients in the country. If they have this subsidized treatment as an option in cancer care, then we would take a big burden off from one’s shoulders for the family,” she added.
Valera pointed out the NICCA and the passage of the Universal Health Care Act will put the country’s health system in a better perspective. This means more integrated services and more financing assistance both by the local and national governments. She commended the passage of the NICCA as this aims to provide quality health care and financial risk protection to the cancer patients.
“If implemented in the right way, it will give better support to cancer patients especially in the underserved throughout the cancer patient’s journey in diagnosis, treatment care and palliative care ensuring the journey would not be emotionally and financially burdensome,” Valera underscored.
“It would be great if NICCA would be implemented soon as the implementing rules and regulations are available, it would also be important if it has the budget to implement the needed programs,” Valera added.
Valera hopes that Congress will allot a budget for NICCA so the program can start assisting in treating the cancer patients.
Under NICCA, all types of cancer will be covered for assistance whether the patient is young or old. Even cancer caregivers are entitled to benefits under the NICCA.
In the same webinar, Dr.Gerardo Cornelio, director of the Cancer Institute, St. Luke’s Medical Center BGC said tthere will be a rise in the number of cancer patients from 2030 to 2050 as the ageing population will dramatically increase in numbers. With an ageing population, expect the rise of chronic diseases such as cancer.
However, Cornelio said the emergence of innovative treatments has revolutionized the treatment of cancer, making it more tolerable to patients. “Compared to traditional treatments such chemotherapy, immunotherapy gives a longer survival period and improves the quality of lives of patients,” Cornelio emphasized.
Access is the key
Unfortunately, many still cannot access cancer treatment and because of this, Cornelio said there was a need for different stakeholders to collaborate. “We need to work together and hope and pray together that this would be available to the cancer patients in the future,” he said.
Meanwhile. Sen. Nancy Binay urged the DOH to fast track the implementation of the NICCA law, noting that it has been a year since the implementing rules and regulations of NICCA have been approved.
Binay, who is one of the authors of the law, also expressed her disappointment at the agency after the Senate hearing on the proposed 2021 budget of DOH revealed that there is no specific item in their budget for the Cancer Assistance Fund.
“Why is there no item in the DOH budget for the Cancer Assistance Fund which is already part of the law?” Binay asked during the hearing. “Perhaps we can put a small amount so that the Cancer Assistance Fund will not be zero.”
According to the DOH, they have already proposed a P535 million budget for the Cancer Assistance Fund but it is still waiting for the approval of the Department of Budget and Management.