A FRONT AGAINST CANCER The leaders of the coalition link arms while the members are at their backs

Happy Palm Sunday to all you readers! We can’t have the Holy Week processions and outdoor “pabasa” but try to make do at home. Go to on-stream masses and retreats for this Holy Week. Remember what Christ told us, “Do not be afraid! I am with you!”

The inventor of the famous ube jam of the Good Shepherd Sisters went home to heaven this week. Sr. Fidelis Atienza was 102 years old. Her well-loved product gave birth to ube dimples, cookies, and all sorts of ube-related sweets.

She was also an environmentalist and an excellent counselor to those who sought her advice, in Baguio where the ube jam first made its debut, then later in Tagaytay, and in their Quezon city convent.

In Tagaytay, the Good Shepherd Sisters have a walk-in store that sells ube jams, dimples, cookies, and the like, including fresh lumpia, fruit juices, and more. It is right before entering the market area on top of a small hilly slope. Definitely worth the visit.

Do you know that this pandemic leaves cancer patients more vulnerable? In the Philippines, the very law that is supposed to protect cancer victims has yet to be implemented because of the delayed formation of a council that will execute the plans.

No less than Health Secretary Francisco Duque III has observed that people with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are more vulnerable to becoming severely ill or to expire amid COVID-19. “The noted underinvestment in the interventions and preventions and control of NCDs risks the disruption of the vital NCD services due to COVID-19. In the long term, this will ultimately link to a surge in deaths of people with NCDs,” Duque said in a forum.

Republic Act No. 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) has been signed into law in February 2019, but to this day it has yet to be implemented. NICCA is an internationally acclaimed law for comprehensively mapping the path forward to strengthen cancer control, increase cancer survivorship, and reduce the burden on patients and families.

Individually, we are a drop. Together we are an ocean.

—Ryunosuke Satoro

NICCA is supposed to supplement Republic Act 11223 or Universal Health Care Act, which was also passed the same year. Together, these two laws are expected to reduce the mortality from NCDs by 30 percent in 2030. The pandemic has made it more difficult to achieve this goal, however, as COVID-19 fatally interplays with NCDs such as cancer, according to the secretary.

Some studies show that patients with cancer who contract COVID-19 are 16 times more likely to be in a severe condition. It is very critical that the NICCA council is organized soon, according to Paul Perez, president of the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines.

The NICCA council is envisioned to provide technical guidance and support, and oversee the implementation of the law. It aims to ensure judicious and best use of available resources. Under the law, the council will act as a policy-making, planning, and coordinating body on cancer control attached with the Department of Health (DOH).

“Now that the government has allocated more than ₱700 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,” said consumer advocacy group Citizen Watch Philippines co-convenor Alvin Manalansan.

Paul Perez, president of the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines

According to Fatima Garcia-Lorenzo, president of the Philippine Alliance of Patients Organization, the delayed implementation of NICCA deprives vulnerable sectors, such as the elderly, women, the poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged of resources funded by the law.

“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,” added Dr. Corazon Ngelangel, president of the Philippine Cancer Society and professor emeritus at UP-College of Medicine, as she pointed out that the global cancer burden affected 19.3 million individuals and resulted in 10 million deaths in 2020. In the Philippines, the number of new cancer cases reached 153,571 in 2020 while cancer-related deaths were recorded at 92,606. Cancer predominantly affects the working-age group and therefore the economy. “Cancer cannot be stopped if not treated immediately, if not detected early, and not managed compliantly,” said Dr. Ngelangel.

The General Appropriations Act of 2021 signed by President Rodrigo Duterte on Dec. 28, 2020, included a budget amounting to ₱620 million, pooled from the ₱500 million Cancer Control Program, and ₱120 million from the Cancer Assistance Fund. According to Secretary Duque, the budget is supported by the ₱136 million regular allocations for cancer under the NCDs budget line item, which brings the total to ₱756 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, who heads DOH’s Public Health Services team, has confirmed that while the work and financial plan was ready, the ₱756 million intended for cancer has yet to be released because there is no council yet to set the direction. “With hope, by first quarter of this year, the NICCA Council will be formed,” she said. “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,” she added.

Source: Manila Bulletin (https://mb.com.ph/2021/03/28/cancer-patients-need-unified-help/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cancer-patients-need-unified-help)