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CO-WRITTEN / PARTNER | Staff Reporter, Philippines
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Unlocking the Potential of the Philippines in Cancer Care Preparedness

MSD conducted a comprehensive research called the Health Impact Projection, or “HIP” Model.

In the midst of a global pandemic, healthcare systems around the world are inevitably placed in the spotlight to battle COVID-19. Given the exponential gravitas of the coronavirus affecting millions of people worldwide, patients with terminal illnesses such as cancer are some of the most vulnerable due to their weakened immune systems.

In 2018 alone, over 140,000 Filipinos were diagnosed with some form of cancer -- the limited resources, poverty rate, pronounced inequity in terms of access to cancer care services, and overwhelming out-of-pocket expenses further exacerbate the situation of affected patients and their families.

Fortunately, the passing of the Universal Health Care Act (UHC) was a monumental move in Philippine healthcare. The National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) was also signed into law in 2019 — a landmark win for cancer patients, carers, and cancer care advocates alike. It aims to carry out a responsive, equitable, accessible, and affordable cancer care plan with the support of the government and other stakeholders.

This paved the way for biopharma company MSD in the Philippines to conduct a comprehensive research called the Health Impact Projection, or “HIP” Model. Using Philippine clinical data, the findings demonstrated significant increase in overall survival and an almost equal increase in quality of life scores amongst patients who undergo immunotherapy, an innovative treatment option for cancer patients, should this treatment option receive government funding. A virtual roundtable discussion was recently held to share insights on the aforementioned study, and to spark a conversation amongst healthcare professionals and members of the media who can help spread awareness to the public.

Moderated by broadcast journalist and health advocate Nina Corpuz of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs, the talk began with an overview of cancer cases in the country, discussed by Dr. Madeleine Valera, former Undersecretary of the Philippine Department of Health. Dr. Valera emphasised that cancer should continue to be deemed a national health priority especially with the increasing number of cases each year: “If cancer patients had access to treatment as a subsidised option in their care, it would take a great burden off everyone’s shoulders especially amidst the pandemic. Our healthcare system needs to step up to provide better access to quality cancer care.”

Medical oncologist Dr. Gerry Cornelio, Director of the Cancer Institute in St. Luke’s Medical Center - Global City, gave the listeners an in-depth explanation of immunotherapy, which is a different treatment option from the traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy. In simple terms, he said that it works by unlocking one’s own immune system to recognise and kill the cancer cells, thereby leading to fewer side effects compared to other treatments. “With immunotherapy, we need to reconsider the way we look at cancer treatment outcomes -- now, instead of just ‘Overall Survival’, we can also consider ‘Quality of Adjusted Life Years.’ This measures the patients’ quality of life for each year that they are alive, to keep them well enough to enjoy life with their family and friends.”

Being diagnosed with a terminal illness like cancer is catastrophic enough even for those with health insurance, so Filipinos from all walks of life deserve quality cancer care to enjoy added years to their lives, and life to their years. Dr. Bill Ramos, President of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, concluded the spirited discussion by acknowledging the passing of the UHC and NICCA as big steps forward. “We started it right. Let’s end this strong,” he said.

To help support the advocacy, he invites people to sign the petition to approve the Department of Health’s Cancer Assistance Fund via the website: https://psmo.org.ph/ 

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