Improving cancer care in the Philippines

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    A study done in 2018 reported that more than 141,000 Filipinos were diagnosed with cancer— lung cancer and breast cancer being the top indications. Over 60 percent of those diagnosed with the dreaded disease succumbed to the illness. Furthermore, Philippine Cancer Society estimates that over 80 percent of Filipino families cannot afford to fund basic medical care from their own pockets.

    These alarming statistics raised concerns around the country’s cancer care and control programs, which prompted the government’s issuance of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) in 2019 to help create statutory requirements to address and prioritize gaps in the current continuum of cancer care, and to integrate policies and programs for cancer prevention, detection, management, and survivorship or palliative care.

    During a discussion held last week, former Undersecretary of Health at the Department of Health Dra. Madeleine Valera and oncologist Dr. Gerardo Cornelio of St. Luke’s Medical Center discussed what steps the government and the people can do to address the disease.

    One such opportunity is to fully implement and put to practice the provisions in the NICCA, including gaining access to the full cancer registry and treatment options therein. Recent developments have also yielded innovative treatments like immunotherapy allowing patients to enjoy additional life-years, progression-free life years, quality-adjusted life years, avoidance of adverse events, and overall improved health gains between five- and ten-fold.

    Both speakers also reiterated the need for patients to continue treatments despite the pandemic, assuring the public that hospitals are taking all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of their patients, especially those with compromised immune system due to chemotherapy.

    And while improving cancer care is a massive undertaking, several headways have been made. With these promising results, the importance of ongoing policy reforms such as the National Integrated Cancer Control Act is evermore highlighted, and the importance of finding solutions to provide equitable and sustainable access to these life-saving innovative treatments to more Filipinos is of ever-greater priority to help unlock the potential of the country in the realm of cancer care.