Cancer advocacy groups team up to initiate conversations on where they are now in Cancer Law implementation
Cancer has been a significant public health burden among Filipinos. In fact, 4 Filipinos die from cancer every hour. Nearly half of the population has been impacted by the disease either through personal diagnosis or by someone they know. Furthermore, cancer treatments have been financially catastrophic for thousands of Filipino families, making cancer care inaccessible to many, especially the poor.
Despite the challenges faced by the cancer community, cancer care in the Philippines has made significant strides since the signing of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), which aims to provide comprehensive and accessible cancer care to all Filipinos from all walks of life.
In celebration of the 4th anniversary of the signing of the NICCA and in observance of World Cancer Day with the theme “Closing the Care Gap,” Philippine College of Surgeons-Cancer Committee with Cancer Coalition Philippines, in partnership with MSD in the Philippines’ cancer advocacy campaign Hope From Within, organized a media forum where members of the cancer community evaluated where we are right now in terms of the state of cancer care, recognized the cancer care gaps that have yet to be addressed in terms of NICCA implementation and funding, and most importantly, discussed what the future looks like for Filipino cancer patients. The media forum is part of the 2-day Philippine National Cancer Summit.
Titled “NICCA Law: Where We are Now and What Does the Future Look like for Cancer Patients,” the event brought together scientific leaders, patient groups, decision-makers, health leaders, and other stakeholders to spotlight the wins and challenges experienced by the cancer community and to highlight the importance of multi-stakeholder collaboration in improving cancer care in the country.
‘Closing the Care Gap’
Ms. Carmen Auste, Vice President of Cancer Coalition Philippines, sheds light on the barriers cancer patients and their families face in accessing timely and crucial treatments. She highlights the inability of many Filipinos to afford medical attention, coupled with limited local experts and unavailable treatments, only add to the struggle against cancer.
Aside from access to quality cancer care services, the lack of accurate and reliable information prevents patients and their families from making informed decisions about their health.
“We need the next generation to be very open when it comes to identifying risk factors, being actively engaged in health-seeking behaviors– na wala na silang takot pumunta sa doctor, wala na silang takot humingi ng tulong at kumausap sa mga taong makatutulong sa kanila,” said Asec Dexter Galban of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The role of public–private partnerships (PPP) in cancer care is also a means to close the care gap. PPP shows much promise as an innovative way to include the private sector in health systems strengthening and enhancing health program sustainability over time.
When patients are included in the conversation, the result is a system that is more effective, equitable, and compassionate. Mr. Ralph Degollacion of Heathy Philippines Alliance highlighted the importance of patient representation throughout the governance process, from creating the law and implementation up to feedback.
Mr. Allen Silvano, former councilor of San Juan, proposed that the next step in expanding the implementation of NICCA law is to activate the local governments and bring the law to the barangay level.
“Siguro gumawa tayo ng draft ng local policy, ng city ordinance, creating a local council for cancer control, prevention, para lang sa ganoon we have partners in the local governments, and these local governments they know who among these people in their communities can help them in terms of being their private partners,” he said.
Access to quality cancer care and survivorship
When you hear the word cancer, most people immediately think it’s a death sentence. Still, advances in diagnosis as well as our understanding of the disease, have led to better and more tailored treatment approaches.
As the speed of medical innovation in oncology continues at an unprecedented pace, it is even more important that patients get a thorough understanding of their condition and are enabled to discuss treatment options with their physicians. This is the path to shared decision-making and, ultimately, better patient outcomes.
Across all cancer types, survival is a prime measure of patient outcomes, and it is imperative that all cancer patients have access to quality cancer care services – from diagnostics to treatment options (including innovative ones) – to increase their odds of overcoming the disease.
“Cancer is something that you can live with and not die from, but we need all the tools at the disposal of the patients, and this includes the fact that we lag behind in the Philippines in the introduction of new medicines and new treatments,” said Mr. Teodoro Padilla, Executive Director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP).
Realization of the provisions of the NICCA, including the expansion of PhilHealth packages and the funding of The Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF), can give access to free life-saving medicines, make cancer care accessible and help avert the bankruptcy of thousands of Filipino families.
What does the future hold for cancer patients?
Dr. Rosario Pitarque, President of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO), expressed their commitment to advancing science and to remaining passionate doctors who will champion cancer patients.
Meanwhile, Mr. Orlando Oxales, lead convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines, recognized the need for collaboration between the government and private sectors to address healthcare challenges. He said, “Investing in health is investing in our future. We cannot survive as a nation if our people are not healthy.”
Recently, congress raised the budget to PHP1.56 billion for two cancer funds under this year’s General Appropriations Act (GAA). The budget will be used for cancer prevention, detection, and treatment, and care pursuant to NICCA and CAF.
With this development, the future looks promising for cancer patients – more Filipinos will have access to cancer care services, and the cancer care gap could potentially be narrowed. This is a significant step forward in the fight against cancer in the Philippines and offers hope for a brighter future.
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