By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

‘CANCER-FREE PHILIPPINES’. Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman delivers a speech during the fourth Philippine National Cancer Summit at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria on Thursday (Feb. 23, 2023). Pangandaman shared her aspiration for the Philippines to become a “cancer-free” country. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Budget and Management)

MANILA – Budget Secretary Amenah Pangandaman is pushing for additional funding to finance programs aimed at preventing and controlling cancer in the country.

Pangandaman said while the Marcos administration has made significant strides in public oncology financing through the implementation of Republic Act 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA), much remains to be done to help cancer-ridden Filipinos and raise public awareness about the disease.

“We have established the said sustainable financing mechanism and taken significant steps toward the advancement of the implementation of the NICCA,” Pangandaman said in a speech delivered during the Fourth Philippine National Cancer Summit at the Crowne Plaza Manila Galleria on Thursday.

“Yet, we have a long way to go and a longer list of things to hope for, such as better funding for better cancer research and development in the country, possibly a national research and development program for cancer control, and more facilities and better technologies for screening, early detection, diagnosis, control and care,” she added.

Pangandaman made the remark, as she noted that for many years, cancer has been one of the leading causes of death in the country.

She lamented that many Filipino families, including those in the upper-income brackets, are “vulnerable to catastrophic health spending” because of high treatment cost and limited coverage of cancer care under the existing public programs.

Citing the 2019 estimates, Pangandaman said around 60 percent of the total public cancer expenditures come from out-of-pocket payments and private insurance.

“As such, we should discuss public oncology financing through the advancement of the implementation of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act or NICCA with sustainability in mind. Through this, we can provide our fellow Filipinos quality and affordable cancer-related healthcare that would last for many generations,” she said.

‘Cancer-free PH’

Pangandaman expressed optimism that the government’s initiatives would make the Philippines become a “cancer-free” nation.

This, as she touted that the government has already established mechanisms for the implementation of NICCA, including public-private partnerships and tax reforms to sustain public oncology financing.

“We continue to hope that we may one day soon have a future that is cancer-free. And seeing all the initiatives and actions being taken towards this makes me believe that it is possible. Rest assured that the Department of Budget and Management is one with you in realizing our aspirations for a cancer-free Philippines,” Pangandaman said.

Pangandaman ensured that the Marcos administration is putting a premium on boosting Filipinos’ health and strengthening the healthcare system’s capacity, noting that it has allocated around PHP327.21-billion budget for the health sector, representing a 17-percent increase from last year’s budget.

Under the PHP327.21-billion budget, the national government has earmarked some PHP1.06 billion for the National Integrated Cancer Control Program (NICCP) and PHP500 million for the Cancer Assistance Fund (CAF), Pangandaman said.

“We have allocated PHP1.06 billion for the National Integrated Cancer Control Program to provide funding and support for cancer control activities, increase public awareness about cancer, its causes, and its prevention, and promote healthy lifestyles to reduce the risk of developing cancer,” she said.

“Meanwhile, some PHP500 million is allotted for the Cancer Assistance Fund, which shall complement existing financial support mechanisms like the PhilHealth coverage and Malasakit funds,” Pangandaman added.

Pangandaman likewise cited the PHP100.2 billion allocation for the National Health Insurance Program; PHP32.63 billion for the Medical Assistance to Indigent and Financially-Incapacitated Patients; PHP26.81 billion for the Health Enhancement Facilities Program; and PHP16.95 billion for the implementation of the National Health Workforce Support System.

She also noted that the National Economic and Development Authority Board’s approval of the construction of the PHP6-billion cancer center at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital in Manila will provide a bigger facility with better technologies for cancer patients.

“For this reason, it is imperative that members of different sectors — public, private, academic, and research institutions, non-government organizations, and civil societies engaged in today’s event. Your commitment to the cause and active community participation will be our key to realizing these aspirations,” Pangandaman said.

The Fourth Philippine National Cancer Summit was held, in line with the commemoration of Cancer Awareness Month and the fourth year of the signing of the NICCA.

It gathered various stakeholders from the national and international cancer community to promote and advance multidisciplinary, patient-focused and quality cancer care. (PNA)