Providing a fighting chance: Supporting and caring for our cancer-stricken kababayans



Assalamu alaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.

I recently received a very precious birthday gift. Made by Kapampangan artist Donna Camaya, I immediately felt it was a token and labor of love as soon as I uncovered and saw the insightful art piece — a vibrant acrylic tissue painting titled, “Amenah: The Faithful One.” 

Not only was I moved by Donna’s kind gesture, but I was even more in awe of her life story — how she faced difficulties, especially when she lost her husband to brain tumor and her eldest daughter to end-stage renal disease in a span of six months. She was also suffering from Covid-19 when her daughter passed away. 

And, as if her tribulations then weren’t enough, Donna is a person with disability and a cancer survivor undergoing treatment. But despite these adversities, her spirit remains undaunted, actively and passionately painting as a source of income to support her youngest child.

Donna’s incredible journey, especially her courage and resolve to win the battle against cancer, is an inspiring and hopeful story for us all. 

Cancer is a disease typified by abnormal cell growth and spreading. According to the 2020 World Health Organization (WHO) Report on Cancer, the global cancer burden is significant, with one in six deaths due to this non-communicable disease. In 2018, there were 18.1 million cancer cases globally. WHO estimated that this would increase to 29.4 million by 2040 if left unabated.

According to the provisional report of the Philippine Statistics Authority released on Jan. 19, 2024, as of October 2023, neoplasm, or abnormal tissue growth, was the second-top cause of death in the country, with 42,149 cases or 10.5 percent of the total deaths from January to August 2023, next to ischaemic heart diseases with 19.1 percent. These were also the leading causes of death in the same period in 2022.  

I believe that the incidence of cancer does not only impact the patient but also families, communities, health systems, as well as our nation through productivity loss. I can imagine the suffering and devastation felt by a person diagnosed with cancer and their families. Health professionals say that cancer does not discriminate against its victims — rich, poor, young, or old — anyone at any time may be diagnosed with the disease. Various studies have shown that one can be predisposed to cancer through genetics or lifestyle. The good news is that cancer is preventable and treatable with early detection.

However, the high cost of cancer treatments and the restricted coverage of such care under public programs mean that many Filipino families — even those with higher incomes — are susceptible to unmanageable health expenses. Estimates for 2019 show that private insurance and out-of-pocket payments account for about 60 percent of the total public cancer expenditures.

We are fortunate that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (PBBM) puts a premium on boosting the health of Filipinos and strengthening the capacity of our healthcare system. As he emphasized during his State of the Nation Address in July 2023, “Healthier communities and lifestyles are our advocacy.” We know that strong health systems in nations increase survival rates by providing survivorship care, high-quality medical care, and early detection.

Thus, PBBM ordered his administration to adopt an integrated and comprehensive approach to health development, which includes the strengthening of integrative, multidisciplinary, patient- and family-centered cancer control policies, programs, systems, interventions, and services at all levels of the existing health care delivery system. Further, he espoused making cancer treatment and care more equitable and affordable, especially for marginalized Filipinos.

At the Fourth Philippine National Cancer Summit on Feb. 23 last year, I highlighted in my message that we should discuss public oncology financing through the advancement of the implementation of Republic Act No. 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act of 2019, with sustainability in mind. The law requires the establishment of the National Integrated Cancer Control Council, the National Integrated Cancer Control Program, the Philippine Cancer Center, and the Cancer Assistance Fund. It also calls for expanding PhilHealth’s benefit packages to include more cancer-related tests and treatments. With great pride, I announced that we have already put all of these in place, including sustainable financing mechanisms like public-private partnerships, fulfilling the legislation’s promise of hope for cancer patients, survivors, and their families. Through this, we can provide our fellow Filipinos with quality and affordable cancer-related healthcare that will last for many generations.

This year, under the Prevention and Control of Non-Communicable Diseases program of the Department of Health, a total of ₱1.024 billion has been appropriated to implement the Cancer Control Program to cover the cost of cancer prevention, detection, treatment, and care as components of the established National Integrated Cancer Control Program. The budget will be used exclusively for procuring and delivering cancer medicines, supportive care, and palliative care medicines covering eight treatable cancer types.

In addition to the Cancer Control Program, ₱1.25 billion has been appropriated to the Cancer Assistance Fund under the Fiscal Year 2024 National Budget, a 150 percent increase from its ₱500 million budget last year. The fund shall be used for cancer prevention, screening, early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and its care-related components.

Beyond budget, health awareness and understanding the nature of a disease is essential especially after surviving the pandemic. Healthcare services accessible to Filipinos from across sectors are of utmost importance, too. 

Cancer, one of the most dreaded diseases, affects not only individuals but their families, communities, and the nation. Under the leadership of President BBM, we are advocating for healthier communities and lifestyles to prevent cancer. We are caring for the afflicted, so that our kababayans, like Donna, have a fighting chance to enjoy life, and for us, as a nation, to achieve sustainable and inclusive growth.

(Amenah F. Pangandaman is the current Secretary of the Department of Budget and Management.)