Cancer bill awaits President’s signature

A bill seeking to integrate a national cancer control program in the country is now awaiting the signature of President Rodrigo Duterte after it was approved by Congress.

The bill has been transmitted to Malacanang last January 17.

Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography and sponsor of the bill, said cancer is now the second leading cause of death in the Philippines, with cardiovascular disease being the first.

The Cancer Coalition Philippines (CCP) estimate that there are approximately 141,021 new cases of cancer and listed the five most frequent cancer as that of the breast, lung, liver, prostate and cervix uteri.

Based on the CCP data last year, the top most common cancer among males are lung, prostate, liver, leukemia and non-hodgkinlumphoma while the top most common cancer among the females are breast, cervix uteri, lung, ovary and thyroid.

While most cancers are curable, CCP officials said, survivorship in the Philippines is quite poor as compared to other Asian countries.

Data from the Philippine Cancer pegged survivorship for Filipino women suffering from breast cancer at 63 percent as compared to the 89 percent survivorship rate of their American counterpart.

Similarly, survivorship for Filipino men suffering from prostate cancer is pegged at 47 percent as compared to 89 percent survivorship of their Australian counterpart.

On the other hand, survivorship rate for childhood leukemia in the Philippines is only 27 percent as compared to 92 percent survivorship rate in Germany.

While the Department of Health (DOH) budget seems to be increasing, Ejercito said it is still inadequate to address the increasing incidence of cancer in the country.

He said the passage of the bill into law would address various gaps in cancer care and integrate policies and programs for its prevention, detection, correct diagnosis, treatment and palliative care, pain management and survivorship or end of life.

“Through the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, we can give cancer patients a choice, we can give them hope – hope that they will have an equitable and affordable cancer treatment and care, especially for the underprivileged and marginalized Filipinos,” Ejercito stressed.

Once the bill is enacted into law, cancer patients, persons living with cancer and cancer survivors shall be considered as persons with disabilities (PWDs) and as such be accorded the same rights and privileges as the PWDs.

Under the act, the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) shall expand its benefit packages to include screening, detection, diagnosis, treatment assistance, supportive care, survivorship follow-up care and rehabilitation, and end of-life-care, for all types and stages of cancer in both adults and children.

On the other hand, the DOH shall ensure sufficient and affordable supply of medicines for cancer patients. It shall, with other concerned agencies, implement reforms supporting early access to essential medicines, innovative medicines and health technologies to ensure the highest possible chance of survival among people with cancer.

The Insurance Commission shall mandate all Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to cover genetic counseling and testing, cancer screening, diagnostic and palliative care as well as certain therapeutics of all member employees.

The bill also provides that cancer-related absences from work of member employees as well as voluntary members shall be covered and compensated by the sickness benefits of the Social Security System (SSS) and the disability benefits of the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS).

Under the act, a Philippine Cancer Center, under the control and supervision of the DOH-University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), shall be established for the treatment and accommodation of cancer patients. The center shall also initiate research, in collaboration with other universities, hospital and institutions, for cancer prevention and cure.

Likewise, regional cancer centers shall be established nationwide for the treatment and care of cancer patients. The center shall also undertake and support the training of physicians, nurses, medical technicians, pharmacists, health officers and social workers on good practice models for the delivery of responsive, multidisciplinary, integrated cancer services.

Under the act, the DOH shall intensify its cancer awareness campaign and provide the latest and evidence-based information for the prevention and treatment of cancer. It shall also establish a national cancer registry and monitoring system for the assessment and control of cancer in the country. (Senate of the Philippines)