Is cancer ‘sexy’ enough for you?
“Make cancer sexy!” pleaded Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala before a group of journalists earlier this week. A cancer survivor herself, Magsanoc-Alikpala is at the forefront of a concerted effort of several cancer advocacy groups, including “I Can Serve,” to have a “National Integrated Anti-Cancer Control Act” passed as soon as possible.
Despite the dread that the word “cancer” induces, and despite the rapidly growing incidence of cancer in the country, it seems ironic that cancer still isn’t “sexy” enough for sustained coverage by the media.
As Paul Perez of “Brave Kids,” a parents support group for children with cancer, puts it, 11 Filipinos are struck with cancer every hour of every day here, and of these cancer victims, seven will die. Ten Filipino children are diagnosed with cancer every day, with 8 in 10 dying as a result. This even as medical advances worldwide show that pediatric cancers are easily treatable and treatments have a remarkable success rate. And yet there are less than 300 oncologists or cancer specialists around the country (the majority practice in Metro Manila), and even fewer cancer facilities.
Of much concern are the economic consequences of cancer: 56 percent of families lose their financial capacity to cope with the demands of cancer within 12 months. Studies show that over 50 percent of the financial capacity of a typical family goes toward treatment of the cancer-stricken member, jeopardizing the chances for survival of the rest of the family.
Even worse news is that the incidence of cancer is projected to increase by as much as 80 percent by 2030 in low-resource countries like ours. This, says the coalition of cancer groups, “will have a staggering effect on the ability and resiliency of the Philippine health system as well as its overall capacity.”
The most daunting aspect of cancer, says Magsanoc-Alikpala, is the “mental torture” that many people struggling against cancer undergo. Over the months and years of their treatment, cancer patients have to cope with not just dread and pain, but also worry about the welfare of their families and the drain on the family income that their illness presents.
“We need a united front to confront this huge issue,” asserts Magsanoc-Alikpala, which explains the various groups’ decision to merge forces and resources to push the draft bill through Congress. “We have no agenda other than saving lives,” she asserts.
Dr. Ramon Severino, a pediatrician at the East Avenue Medical Center, speaks from the doctor’s perspective in dealing with cancer. In too many cases, he says, families confronting cancer in their midst decide not to push through with the treatment, preferring to ensure the survival of the rest of the family.
A consequence of the high cost of treatment, it was revealed, is the desperation of some patients and families to turn to treatments that, while unable to pass scientific and medically acceptable standards, promise quick and easy cures. So many patients, according to the doctors at the forum, have spent thousands of pesos on dubious cures that promise “miracles” simply because the traditional, scientific route has proven much too expensive.
A number of legislators, among them Rep. Karlo Nograles and Senators Sonny Angara and JV Ejercito, have thrown their full support behind the proposed National Cancer Control Act. Among the more salient provisions of this draft bill is the creation of the Cancer Assistance Fund to help see poor families through the course of treatment; the expansion of the PhilHealth programs and benefit packages; the expansion of services to underserved regions; ensuring a supply of essential cancer drugs; and making sure that in the private sector cancer drugs are “available, accessible, affordable and of quality.”
With the great need and demand for an integrated response to cancer, is the issue “sexy” enough for you?
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