Health experts have urged the immediate formation of the cancer council to implement a law to protect cancer patients.
“It is very critical that the National Integrated Cancer Control Act Council has to be organized and convened. Based on the law, the council will act as a policy-making, planning and coordinating body on cancer control attached with DOH (Department of Health). If they are not convened, what is there to fund?” Paul Perez, president of the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines, said in a statement.
Republic Act No. 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) was signed into law in February 2019, but it remains unimplemented, according to Fatima Lorenzo, president of the Philippine Alliance of Patients Organization.
The NICCA Council is envisioned to provide technical guidance and support, and oversee the implementation of the law. It aims to ensure that there is judicious and best use of available resources for the benefit of all, especially the most vulnerable sectors—the elderly, women, poor, marginalized and disadvantaged.
Consumer Group Citizen Watch Philippines co-convenor Alvin Manalansan said: “Now that the government already allocated more than P700 million for the cancer control program this year, what is missing is the NICCA Council that should have been formed as early as 2019. If the council fails to convene there is the risk that these funds will not be disbursed at the maximum benefit of needy beneficiaries.”
Dr. Corazon Ngelangel, president of the Philippine Cancer Society and professor emeritus at UP-College of Medicine, said the global cancer burden affected 19.3 million individuals and resulted in 10 million deaths in 2020.
Ngelangel said that in the Philippines, the number of new cancer cases reached 153,571 in 2020, while cancer-related deaths were recorded at 92,606. She said cancer affects predominantly the working age group, affecting the country’s economy.
Ngelangel pushed for the full implementation of NICCA to help address the problem.
“The challenges in cancer are all embodied in the NICCA and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR). All we have to do is to face these challenges and try to implement what is in the law,” she said.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said the NICCA law would supplement the implementation of Republic Act 11223 or Universal Health Care Act which was also passed in 2019.
“The noted underinvestment in the interventions and preventions and control of Non Communicable Disease (NCDs) risks the disruption of the vital services due to COVID-19. In the long term, this will ultimately link to a surge in deaths of people with NCDs,” Duque said.
Duque said it is a fact that people with NCDs are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill or expiring from COVID-19.
“We should anticipate the coming of the fourth wave: psychological trauma, mental illness, economic injury and burn-out of our healthcare workers, including each and every one of us. Despite all this, we should not despair,” he said.
He said the General Appropriations Act of 2021 signed by President Duterte on December 28, 2020 included a budget amounting to P620 million, pooled from the P500-million Cancer Control Program and P120 million from the Cancer Assistance Fund.
He said the budget would be supported by the P136-million regular allocation for cancer under the non-communicable diseases budget line item which would bring the total to P756 million for the Cancer Supportive Care and Palliative Care Medicines Access Program (CSPMAP). This will cover breast cancer, childhood cancer and other priority cancer types.
Health Undersecretary Myrna Cabotaje, head of DOH’s Public Health Services Team said: “Hopefully, by first quarter of this year, the NICCA Council will be formed and will able to convene.”
“It is important to establish the council as they will be the one who will define the rules of engagement that will complement the Cancer Assistance Fund,” Cabotaje said.