By Gabriella Parino and Chelsea Din
Senator Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito on Thursday said cancer prevention is “finally getting the attention it deserves after two years of the health sector prioritizing COVID-19.”
As principal author and sponsor of the Universal Health Care (UHC) law, the former chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Demography said the advocacy for cancer cure and prevention remained dormant during his absence from the Senate.
“It’s different when you are the principal sponsor, you will really fight for this,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino – stating that other legislators had their own pet projects to prioritize during the previous congress.
Senator JV penned the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) to establish a cancer prevention program to improve the survivorship of patients diagnosed with the disease.
Ejercito expressed that the advocacy remained close to his heart after his wife, Hyacinth, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016. She is now a cancer survivor.
“Cancer does not only cause suffering to the patient, but to the whole family. It makes one question his mortality, and his faith: is it a test of character or a trial of God? We’ve never lost our faith, instead, we’ve held onto it even tighter,” the Senator said during an online forum hosted by Kamuning Bakery Cafe.
Ejercito said the current budget allocated for the cancer control program was P789.956 million and P 529 million for the cancer assistance fund under the 2022 General Appropriation Act.
The senator also underscored the practice of disease prevention. He said once the condition got worse, it would only cause more expenses for the patients, the families, and the government, hence the Universal Health Care Law is strengthening its preventive side.
Ejercito said the government will establish rural health units, and primary care and conduct annual check-ups such as laboratory tests.
“It’s a ten year-program, the effect of UHC being passed into law isn’t instantaneous,” the senator said.
Cancer priority in the health sector became dormant during the COVID-19 pandemic – with treatments and chemotherapy becoming rare as the people shied away from hospitals in fear of contracting the COVID.
Department of Budget and Management Undersecretary Tina Canda, who herself was a breast cancer survivor, shared during the online forum that the country needed “a couple of champions” in the Department of Health because she believed that cancer was not given much attention in the past two years due to the pandemic.
“Cancer is a disease that makes you feel alone. It’s like the world is revolving, but you’re being left alone, and it is important for you to know that you are not alone. There’s help from the government, there’s help from your doctors, and it’s not a death sentence,” Canda said.
She also said curing the disease was exhausting physically and financially, adding that the malady was “an economic problem along the way.”
One of the forum’s panelists was Dr. Arnold Uson, president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology (PSMO), who encouraged cancer patients to seek treatment in some existing government assistance programs such as the PCSO and Malasakit program.
“Do not jump to early conclusions of mortality, go to a hospital where the doctors can help you,” he said.
Uson also cited previous findings by the cancer registry that as Filipinos age, their chances of acquiring cancer increase by at least 10 to 30 percent. Research has also identified lung and colorectal cancer as the most common type of cancer in the Philippines.
The Philippine Health Statistics also classified cancer as one out of the four epidemic non-communicable diseases (NCDs) or lifestyle-related diseases (LRDs) considered to be a “silent disaster” and the third most leading cause of mortality and morbidity in the country.