Cancer remains an important issue for Filipinos with over 140,000 new cancer cases and approximately 80,000 cancer deaths recorded in 20181, making it the second leading cause of mortality in the Philippines.
With the advent of the Covid-19 crisis, cancer patients are greatly affected as they face multiple challenges. “Oncology experts have expressed that delays and disruptions in cancer care is like a ticking time bomb; we can expect a surge of cancer patients with disease progression due to delayed or discontinued treatment. Also, delays in diagnosis means that new patients come in at a later stage, with more severe or advanced disease. Factors include many patients and families, including OFWs, losing their jobs, the discontinuity or lessening of financial/medical support from government agencies like PCSO, DSWD and patient hesitancy to seek care in Covid-19 associated hospitals,” asserted Ms. Carmen Auste, Vice-President of the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines.
She continues, “appropriate funding and implementation of the Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF), as stated in the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) is a call being made to our President and other lawmakers by the Cancer Coalition, the Cancer Warriors, the Healthy Philippines Alliance, together with many patient groups. Now more than ever, there is an urgent need to assist and support treatment and care of cancer patients “
The CAF is part of the NICCA law, which mandates the provision of financial, medical, and lifeline assistance to cancer patients in need.
“It is a time to be pragmatic and focus financial resources to high impact interventions. There is wisdom in investing in cancer care. COVID provides us the opportunity to support cancer patients as we provide a multi-disciplinary approach to address cancer, strengthen our hospitals and uplift the healthcare system”, says Dr. Mae Dolendo, Head of the Children’s Cancer Institute of the Southern Philippines Medical Center.
Dr. Madeleine Valera says that there is a need to form the Cancer Council, a primary component of the NICCA law, because they will be the one to direct policies, “Delay in convening the Cancer Council means delay in implementing the CAF and supporting patients. I’d like to point out that cancer is a greater financial catastrophe compared to COVID-19 because of the chronic nature of the disease. We cannot ignore cancer just because we are also busy with COVID”.
Kara Brotemarkle, General Manager of Roche Philippines stressed that pushing for both UHC and cancer care are consistent aims, and that pursuing each is of benefit to the other, “We shouldn’t think of it as an either or choice. The UHC law is an entry point that can address some of the poor prognosis that we see today with late diagnosis but there also needs to be something for those patients to move into, and that’s where the NICCA law is important in assisting cancer patients and making sure that they get the best care.”