Health advocates gathered to call for better cancer care in the Philippines through a candle-lighting ceremony held last March 10 at the Greenbelt Activity Area in Makati City.
A multi-sectoral group composed of members from the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry led by the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP) in collaboration with MSD, recently came together for a landmark event titled Hope Matters: Lighting A Path for Better Cancer Care to ask for the implementation of the Universal Healthcare Law (UHC) and the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA).
The activity was attended by stakeholders who want to push for better cancer care, including the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO), Philippine College of Surgeons- Cancer Commission (PCS-CANCOM), Philippine Alliance of Patient Organizations (PAPO), MSD and Astra Zeneca. Aside from the symbolic gesture of lighting candles for cancer awareness, they launched a call for action through an online petition that is addressed to the National Government. Cancer is one of the leading causes of mortality in the country. According to the 2018 Global Data on Cancer, more than 140,000 new cancer cases and more than 80,000 cancer deaths are expected in the Philippines every year. Breast cancer is the most common cancer among Filipinos, followed by lung, colon, liver, and prostate1. A study conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, finds that 89 of every 100,000 Filipinos are afflicted with cancer while four Filipinos die of cancer every hour2.
The provisions of the NICCA, which was passed in 2019, will help mitigate the impact of cancer in the country. It ensures the provision of quality health services and financial risk protection to cancer patients. It emphasizes cancer prevention and improvement of survivorship, by improving related health services and care while including additional funding for cancer programs.
Cancer survivor Jojo Flores explained the added challenges that patients have to overcome in order to receive their much-needed treatment, “For cancer patients, it is a collision of the two big C’s -- Cancer and Covid. The treatment for cancer patients is time-bound, but because of the Covid situation, many have not been able to receive their treatments. Hospitals and doctors had to focus on CoVID-19 cases, and even transporting the patient to the hospital was a problem.” he said. Mr. Flores added that although NICCA may take time to implement in its totality, there are aspects of the law that can already help save many lives, especially with early detection.
Flores is calling for specific NICCA provisions to be implemented as soon as possible. These are:
1. The immediate classification of cancer patients as Persons with Disabilities PWDs as soon as formally diagnosed.
2. Mandatory cancer policies in the workplace.
3. The inclusion of innovative therapies among cancer treatments aimed at treating the disease and improving the patient’s quality of life; and
4. Coordinated cancer screening and detection programs at the community levels.
During the forum, one of the points raised by PHAP Director Mr. Teodoro Padilla was the need for public support and private partnerships to enhance better cancer care. He added that as the government implements measures to make medicines more accessible, it is important to address certain bottlenecks to make treatments that are available in other countries also accessible for Filipino patients.
The healthcare and pharmaceutical sector is extending its help not only in the call for the government’s implementation of the NICCA, but through initiatives such as Hope From Within by MSD Philippines. The cancer advocacy program introduced the Cancer Game Plan, a health impact projection model that uses local data sets to uncover cancer outcomes and highlight how innovative treatment options such as immunotherapy may provide cancer patients with the quality of life and improve their overall survival.
Andreas Riedel, President, and Managing Director and the Country Leadership Team of MSD in the Philippines, expressed hope that the event will result in meaningful progress in the fight against cancer.
“Cancer patients and their families are not alone in this fight. We at MSD are one with the community in championing a multi-stakeholder approach to promote information, education, and access to quality cancer care. Through Hope Matters: Lighting a Path for Better Cancer Care, we commit to continue doing our part in amplifying the voice of the Filipino Cancer patient and help usher them towards a more hopeful tomorrow.”
To sign the petition for the full implementation of the NICCA, visit change.org: https://www.change.org/p/department-of-health-sign-the-petition-to-fully-implement-the-national-integrated-cancer-control-act-nicca-now, and help more cancer patients receive quality and holistic healthcare services with the help of the government. (Note: Clicking on the link will lead to a third-party website, outside of the current publication. Said third-party site is independent of and does not necessarily reflect the views of organizations featured in this story including MSD- Hope From Within.)