It was a game-changer when President Rodrigo R.Duterte signed the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) or Republic Act 11215. The law was a landmark achievement in the fight against cancer as it aims to strengthen cancer control in the country, increase cancer survivorship and reduce burden on families and cancer patients.
Alongside the Universal Healthcare Law (UHC), NICCA puts the country one step ahead of the fight towards providing accessible, equitable, sustainable, and affordable cancer care treatment for all. But what does that look like on the ground? How exactly is the Philippines putting this into action?
BusinessWorld Insights and Hope From Within aimed to paint a clearer picture with an inclusive discussion themed: “Cancer Game Plan (CGP) 2.0: Putting the Game Plan into Action”, which gathered some of the country’s top cancer experts and cancer care advocates.
“Locally, there are over 140,000 Filipinos were diagnosed with cancer in 2018, with around 86,000 deaths. These are alarming numbers. This means that 200 or more people are dying daily because of cancer. The limited resources, poverty rate, pronounced inequity in terms of access to cancer care services, and the overwhelming out-of-pocket expenses also continue to increase the burden of affected patients and their families,” Dr. Buenaventura Ramos Jr., president of Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, said.
He added that NICCA has provisions that include the creation of the Philippine Cancer Center to promote and encourage cancer research, provide training to medical professionals, and house the population-based cancer registry. It also mandated the creation of a Cancer Assistance Fund and the National Integrated Cancer Control Council, a multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder body that will act as the policy-making, planning and coordinating body on cancer control, headed by the Secretary of Health.
NICCA also states that PhilHealth will expand its benefit packages to include primary care screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment assistance, supportive care, survivorship follow-up care, rehabilitation, and end-of-life care for all types and stages of cancer in both adults and children. Cancer will become a notifiable disease and hospitals (both public and private) will be required to have a hospital-based cancer registry as a prerequisite for licensing.
“With the statistics that I mentioned, sooner or later cancer may come to someone you know. Then it would affect your everyday life. Cancer treatment can be very expensive. And you would need all the help from the government,” Dr. Ramos said.
Nina Corpuz, Hope From Within’s Cancer Game Plan ambassador, emphasized the need for a Cancer Game Plan that is a multi-stakeholder advocacy that aims to raise awareness towards initiatives that can help strengthen cancer prevention and control in the Philippines.
“A strong and involved voice along with public and private stakeholders that are willing to listen and really put this into action. We need this voice to shape the development of cancer programs as well as to strengthen and empower the LGUs to contribute in the process that can make the implementation more efficient, faster, and more beneficial to the stakeholders in the health system,” she said.
Sharing his perspectives, Ivan Arota from AC Health said that the private sector are key drivers in the innovation of new treatments and medical breakthroughs that can further cancer prevention, control, and healthcare access in the country.
“Our vision is to build an integrated healthcare ecosystem, providing accessible, affordable, quality healthcare to one in five Filipinos by 2030,” Mr. Arota said.
AC Health has announced that it will build the first dedicated private cancer hospital in the Philippines, that will cater to a broader base of Filipinos. The group aims to be a world-class facility and is working with top oncologists to deliver quality treatment for cancer patients, including chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, surgery, and diagnostics.
While all of these are being implemented, however, Hope From Within Ambassadors Tirso Cruz III, Ariella Arida, and MarloMortel encouraged Filipinos to be mindful of their own and their families’ health by taking regular screenings, and becoming pillars of support for patients who need them.
“Don’t fear going to the hospital. It’s a win-win for everybody. Trust your doctor. People think that cancer is a death sentence, but that’s not true. The earlier you detect cancer, the bigger your chances of survival,” Mr. Cruz said. “I’m living proof that early detection can save your life.”
Ms. Arida stressed the importance of community for cancer patients. “No one should fight cancer alone. For all caregivers, we should be the first ones to understand them. In this challenging time, they should know that we are here for them,” she said.
Filipinos, they added, should come together to win the fight against the dreaded disease.
“Instead of asking ourselves, ‘Why does this happen?’, let’s ask better questions. What can we do for their cancer journey to have a happy ending? As much as we can, let’s fight their fight. We’re all in this together,” Mr. Mortel added.