Article written by Czarina Corine Topacio
Cancer is as much of a nation’s as it is an individual’s fight; with over 141 000 new cases in 2018 (The Global Cancer Observatory, 2020), we must implement overarching plans that seek to address and alleviate the burden of cancer. By this, it means that the responsibility of control, awareness, and care extend beyond the hospital and medical setting — we must recognize that this must be, and is also, a joint effort with legislative processes. In implementing laws that concern cancer, we recognize that it is a national problem that deserves a national effort.
In fact, there is a recently passed law that seeks to specifically and holistically address cancer. Signed in to law last February 2019, the RA 11215 or otherwise known as the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), seeks to provide resources targeted toward cancer prevention, control, and awareness, alongside further aiding affected people affected by cancer — i.e. the patients themselves, their families, and their carers. Regarding the IRR, the law provides a multitude of benefits for cancer patients.
In terms of health care systems, the NICCA mandates the establishment of a Philippine Cancer Center, alongside cancer treatment units, outpatient facilities, and guidelines for designating different cancer care centers (regional, specialty, stand-alone specialty, and the like). As treatment centers tend to be in urban areas (Ting et al., 2020), this would significantly improve the accessibility of cancer treatment for patients, especially those of the poor and marginalized. Furthermore, these institutions would promote further interdisciplinary research in cancer, and assist in the training of professionals, thereby improving upon the local field of oncology.
Funding is also a primary concern with cancer treatment, as the costs can severely compromise the patient’s and family’s financial capabilities (Ngelangel et al., 2018). With this, they would greatly benefit from the establishment of a cancer assistance fund in this law, as it seeks to provide monetary assistance for cancer-related services and activities. The NICCA also seeks to widen the scope of PhilHealth’s benefit packages to things like primary care screening, diagnosis, and end-of-life care for all stages and types of cancers, for both children and adults. In connection with this, the provision of essential medicines is also stipulated, particularly with increasing its accessibility. The NICCA seeks to provide increased access and better services with not only essential medicine, but also for palliative care and pain management medicine.
Cancer awareness and environment are also posited in this law, wherein it strives to increase cancer literacy among Filipino citizens. This includes the declaration of the National Cancer Awareness Month in February, and relevant oncology education both in schools, the workplace, and communities, to ensure that cancer-related information is disseminated appropriately for the demographic. Cancer patients, people with cancer, and cancer survivors are also considered as persons with disabilities (PWDs) which entitles them to rights and privileges attached to this. With this said, the NICCA also seeks to reduce the stigma and control the discrimination experienced by cancer patients, survivors, and families in these settings.
However, even more than a year after that the NICCA was passed and that its IRR was released, the benefits of this law have yet to come to fruition. In fact, the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologists released a Change.org petition last year (December 16, 2019) for the passage of the cancer assistance fund, which remains up on the website. Dr. Madeleine Valera, the former DOH undersecretary recently (November 28) emphasized the need to get actions done, particularly with setting up the council, and funding the NICCA; as she asserts, the law itself is useless until it is properly given the funding and resources needed to provide the necessary help for cancer patients (Santos, 2020).
At a time where cancer patients are part of the population that is more vulnerable to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), we must remind our legislators and relevant agencies of the essence and much-needed implementation of this law. The needs of cancer patients, survivors, and families are exacerbated by the pandemic, for which we must hold them accountable.
The Global Cancer Observatory. (2020). Philippines. https://gco.iarc.fr/today/data/factsheets/populations/608-philippines-fact-sheets.pdf
Ngelangel, C. A., Lam, H. Y., Rivera, A. S., Kimman, M. K., Real, I. O., Balete, S. L., & Philippines ACTION Study Group. (2018). Philippine costs in oncology (PESO): Describing the economic impact of cancer on Filipino cancer patients using the ASEAN costs in oncology study dataset. Acta Medica Philippina, 52(2), 125–133. https://doi.org/10.47895/amp.v52i2.418
Santos, J. (2020, November 28). Funding needed for gov’t’s cancer program -ex DOH usec. GMA News Online. Retrieved December 3, 2020 from https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/nation/766040/funding-needed-to-implement-gov-t-s-cancer-program-ex-doh-usec/story/
Ting. F. I., Sacdalan, D. B., Abarquez, H. S., & Uson, A. J. (2020). Treatment of cancer patients during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Philippines. Ecancermedicalscience, 14(1040). https://doi.org/10.3332/ecancer.2020.1040