Lawmakers have opposed the Health department’s proposal to devolve primary cancer care to local governments.
At a hearing conducted by the House Committee on Health chaired by Rep. Angelina Tan of Quezon, one of the lawmakers present, Rep. Micaela Violago of Nueva Ecija said barangay health workers may not be able to do such as they are not equipped and trained to handle cancer cases.
“I don’t think the barangay health worker or the barangay health staff can diagnose or assess if the patient has cancer or not,” Violago said.
For her part, Tan said there is a need for specialized training at the local level to ensure that people are encouraged to seek cancer care at an early stage and that they are matched with the type of care they require.
“The most important thing siguro is that with the enactment of this law, ma-cascade ang information down the ground at makatulong sila, ma-educate sila, and then ma-navigate kung saan pupunta,” Tan said.
However, officials of the DOH and oncology experts said that devolving these functions to the community level is vital in ensuring that health care is easily accessible to cancer patients throughout the country.
DOH Assistant Secretary Maria Rosario Vergeire explained that the proposal works in tandem with the establishment of a health care provider network in each province-wide system under the newly enacted RA 11223 or the “Universal Health Care Act.” She added that the BHS, RHU or health centers are instrumental not only to extending primary care but to setting cancer patients on the right path to receive the care they need.
Meanwhile, Philippine Association of Hepatobiliary Pancreatic Surgeons vice-president Catherine Teh said that primary care frontliners are instrumental in promoting prevention, screening, and early detection by promoting cancer literacy and awareness among the public.
“In reality we know that the barangay health workers are not capable of diagnosing any type of cancers. And that’s why one of the most important provisions of this law is for us to focus on prevention, screening, and early detection as a major part of this endeavor, which is to increase the level of understanding of cancer care which includes actually cancer literacy by increasing the awareness by public education,” she said.
In addition, Cecilia Llave, a gynecologic oncologist, shared that empowering local health centers greatly increases accessibility of cancer care. In various programs with the DOH, it was learned that barangay health workers were useful in encouraging women to be screened in health centers even if they don’t have signs or symptoms, teaching women healthy living to increase their immunity against early cancer, and monitoring and surveillance of cancer patients who have referred to secondary or tertiary level of care.
“The programs for the local health center are very good and very important,” Llave said.