“189 out of every 100,000 Filipinos are stricken with cancer while four Filipinos die of cancer every hour…alarming figures that gave impetus for legislators to unanimously pass the NICCA into law but its implementation is proving to be an even greater challenge as cancer stakeholders are now frustrated with bureaucratic delays”
When the National Integrated Cancer Control Act and the Universal Health Care Act were signed into law more than three years ago, Filipino cancer patients were given a bright spark of hope that, after a long advocacy campaign, government support for a responsive, equitable, and accessible cancer care will soon be realized.
Internationally recognized as one of the most comprehensive cancer assistance laws, this landmark legislation, adequate funding and therefore its envisioned impact remains unrealized as cancer stakeholders are still struggling to push for implementation being bogged down by bureaucratic resistance.
World Health Organization data posted in February 2022 says, “Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for nearly 10 million deaths in 2020, or nearly one in six deaths.”
But an important point of the report is that “Many cancers can be cured if detected early and treated effectively.”
The Philippine Statistics Authority’s 2020 data on the causes of deaths in the Philippines say that cancer is the second cause of mortality.
According to a study by the University of the Philippines Institute of Human Genetics, National Institutes of Health, 189 out of every 100,000 Filipinos are stricken with cancer while four Filipinos die of cancer every hour or 96 cancer patients every day.
These are the alarming figures that gave impetus for legislators to unanimously pass the NICCA into law but its implementation is proving to be an even greater challenge as cancer stakeholders are now frustrated with bureaucratic delays.
In a formal letter by members of the National Integrated Cancer Control Council which is mandated as the policy-making, planning and coordinating body on cancer control attached with the Department of Health, the council aired its urgent appeal to President Duterte and DOH Secretary Duque to immediately direct the Department of Budget and Management and DOH to expedite the issuance of their Joint Memorandum Circular creating and operationalizing the Cancer Assistance Fund.
The Memorandum Circular has been approved by the DOH but, as of this writing, is still pending with the DBM.
The NICCA Council points out the continuous delay of this Memorandum Circular is blocking the activation of the Cancer Assistance Fund which patients should already be accessing for diagnosis and active treatment.
Furthermore, the implementation of the guidelines stated in the joint memorandum circular will supplement the inadequacy of existing PhilHealth coverage and Malasakit funds to address increasing cancer requirements.
Another critical issue is that the cancer budget is again not a separate line item as it was in the General Appropriations Act in the two previous budget cycles.
Being an active proponent as convenor of CitizenWatch Philippines working with the Cancer Coalition of the Philippines, I know for a fact how we had to push hard and must now once again push on in Congress and respectfully remind our legislators that, as mandated by the NICCA, the CAF should be a permanent line item in the GAA.
Now that Congress will soon start deliberations for the 2023 national budget, the budget for the CAF is just labeled as a “special appropriations fund” which means that funds for cancer programs are not assured and can easily be diverted by the DOH, a violation of the NICCA that for the third year is happening again.
Any law without appropriate funding betrays the stakeholders targeted by the legislation. The financial costs associated with cancer are often overwhelming.
According to a 2015 study by the Philippine Cancer Society, approximately 80 percent of Filipino families cannot afford to fund basic medical care.
In a separate 2017 finding, most cancer patients still cover more than half of their total bill (54.3 percent), with government contributions and local government unit contributions at about 13 percent of the total health bill.
The Philippine National Health Accounts and the National Statistical Coordination Board estimate social insurance contributions at only 8 percent.
During a recent forum on cancer care funding, Dr. Marife Yap, Senior Technical Adviser of international research group Thinkwell said, “Cancer care is catastrophic. If you get hit, not only does it devastate you because of the possibility of dying sooner, it devastates you financially.
“You would want to catch it early and you do everything possible to do so, but that’s going to eat up a lot of your money, your livelihood.”
To respectfully echo the appeal of all cancer stakeholders to the Department of Budget Management and the Department of Health – we strongly seek the immediate approval and execution of the Joint Memorandum Circular to activate the Cancer Assistance Fund.