MANILA, Philippines — Cancer need not be an automatic death sentence anymore.” This was one of the messages highlighted during the recent National Cancer Patient and Survivors Congress held at the AFP Theatre in Camp Aguinaldo, QC.
The future of cancer care, to be shaped by the newly-enacted National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), renewed hope and optimism for the hundreds of cancer patients and survivors who attended the congress, together with caregivers, healthcare providers and patient advocates.
“Cancer patients need to know that there are people fighting with them,” said Paul Perez, founder of Project: Brave Kids, Inc. and president of Cancer Coalition Philippines, the driving force behind NICCA.
Perez emphasized that the patient voice was the most important aspect considered in the NICCA and this should be the same for its implementation.
“In supporting cancer patients, we give them hope. When we all come together, we are stronger together. A strong cancer community helps make cancer a not so lonely battle. It helps encourage every patient to take the important steps in the journey towards defeating the disease,” said Perez.
The congress, organized by Cancer Coalition Philippines, highlighted the benefits of the landmark cancer control law, which promised to give all Filipino cancer patients a fighting chance, regardless of age, gender, stage and type of cancer through its provisions for equitable, affordable, and timely cancer care and services from screening and treatment, to rehabilitation, pain management, and palliative care.
Keynote speaker Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Dr. Francisco Duque III said that the DOH is committed to see through the full implementation of the Cancer Act and acknowledged the hard work of members, advocates and champions of the Cancer Coalition Philippines. The efforts of the coalition were crucial in increasing access to quality healthcare with less financial hardship, especially for the indigent cancer patients in marginalized, high-risk and high population communities.
Industry experts from the DOH and PhilHealth led the panel discussions on “Stronger Together through Shared Knowledge,” “Stronger Together through Collaboration” and “Stronger Together through Vigilant Action,” which explained how the NICCA would serve as framework for all cancer-related programs and activities of the government, and recapped on the existing healthcare support and programs of the government for cancer control.
The law mandates for a National Integrated Cancer Control Council whose primary function is to foster fertile ground for cancer treatment-related training for scientists and healthcare professionals. A Cancer Assistance Fund will be established to help alleviate the burden of cancer to patients and promote survivorship.
The government’s cancer care facilities under the DOH will be expanded to make diagnosis and treatment more accessible for Filipinos. This includes the development of a Philippine Cancer Center and regional cancer centers, and will expand PhilHealth benefits to include not only treatment but also screening, rehabilitation, pain management, and palliative care. The law will also grant cancer patients and survivors 20 percent discount for medicines and maintenance drugs, among other benefits, under the Magna Carta for Disabled Persons.
Other government agencies, medical societies, patient support groups and patient navigators participating in the discussions explained their support for the implementation of the groundbreaking law, which will take full effect 180 days after its Implementing Rules and Regulations are finalized in May.
In the meantime, patients and caregivers can avail of financial assistance currently provided by the DOH, Department of Social Welfare and Development, and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office.
“The road to having a cancer control law was never easy. Finally, patient groups of different types of cancer, doctors from different medical societies, families, and other stakeholders came together with one loud and firm voice, and asked for a cancer program covering all cancers, for all stages, all ages, and all genders,” said Perez. “As we celebrate the approval of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act, we need to remind ourselves: the real work is just beginning.”