Partnerships against cancer | Inquirer Opinion
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Partnerships against cancer

/ 08:08 PM February 06, 2012

As keynote speaker at the “Moving as One” multi-sectoral conference on a “public-private partnership for cancer care and control,” Health Secretary Enrique Ona described cancer as a “relentless disease from which we cannot distance ourselves.”

And if Filipinos ever hope to “slow it down and even stop it,” Ona said, then we would have to pursue “efficient collaborations and partnership strategies.”

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On government’s part, Ona said the DOH is implementing “three strategic thrusts” to ease the burden of cancer (and of other serious diseases) on Filipinos, especially the poor: improving financial risk protection for the poor by reforming the National Health Insurance program; improving and enhancing public hospitals and health facilities; and intensifying public health and prevention interventions.

At the conference, there was a lot of opportunity to explore several collaborations between the government and the private sector. Dr. Robert Paterno, chair of the Philippine Cancer Society, said the volunteer group, feeling the need for “a truly national cancer registry,” is starting to set up registries in NCR/Rizal, Bacolod, Cebu and Davao to get a more accurate picture of cancer prevalence in the country. “Statistics are important because these can lead to policy and action,” said Paterno. The PCS, Paterno added, is now working to provide greater access to anti-cancer medications (which can be very expensive) to poor patients with stage one cancer in four government hospitals: East Avenue Medical Center, Jose Reyes Memorial Medical Center, Rizal Medical Center and Philippine General Hospital.

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Dr. Cecile Llave, chair of the Global Call to Action, presented the services of the Chevron Cancer Prevention Center, a collaboration among Chevron Corp., the UP Cancer Institute Foundation and UP-PGH. The Center, said Dr. Llave, is a pilot cancer health care delivery system that is based on preventive health strategies, mainly by promoting a healthy lifestyle (balanced diet, exercise, not smoking), vaccination and early detection.

The clinic based at UP-PGH caters mainly to the employees and staff of the hospital, but the practices “fine-tuned” in the clinic, said Dr. Llave, could serve as a template when the services are replicated at the community level.

Dr. Gemma Uy also spoke about the Breast Care Center, a decade-old partnership between the UP Cancer Institute and Avon Philippines. The Center provides services such as screening and chemotherapy, support group activities, and advocacy and awareness seminars, through a trust fund created by the sale of lipsticks under the “Kiss Goodbye to Cancer” promotion. “Awareness and early detection are the closest thing to a cure,” declared Dr. Uy.

Kara Magsanoc-Alikpala, one of the founders of “I Can Serve,” a public advocacy group on breast cancer, spoke of their efforts to bring breast cancer awareness to communities by partnering with local governments through the “Ating Dibdibin” (Let’s take it to heart) program. In 2008, “Ating Dibdibin” was first implemented in Marikina, starting with sessions on breast cancer prevention, including preventive health and breast self-examinations. Another LGU, that of Panabo in Davao, has likewise adopted “Ating Dibdibin.” “We are looking for partners who will foot the bill for screening, diagnosis and treatment,” Magsanoc-Alikpala said.

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Still, the loudest voice in the work of preventing and eradicating cancer belongs to cancer survivors, who by their life experiences can speak most eloquently and practically on what it takes to protect oneself from cancer.

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Elmer Rojas now bills himself as a “Global Cancer Ambassador,” having been invited to speak on his life experiences, after having undergone treatment for throat cancer, all over the world, including speaking before the United Nations.

But to speak, Rojas relies on a portable vibrating device that allows him to be heard despite having his vocal chords removed. The device allows him to speak, albeit “like Darth Vader,” although, he jokes, children he encounters in malls are drawn to him because “they think I am R2D2.”

Previously a two-pack a day smoker, Rojas is a compelling and very credible speaker on tobacco and cancer control. “Some 240 persons die every day due to smoking,” he declares, “and yet 30 percent or one out of every three Filipinos, are smokers.” This, despite findings that “one-third of cancers can be prevented through early detection” and far more could be prevented if people would only stop smoking (or not starting at all) and live healthy lifestyles.

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There would be no better role models than doctors themselves, and yet Dr. Oscar Tinio, president of the Philippine Medical Association, ruefully shared that an internal survey found “more than 50 percent of medical students smoke, while 20 to 30 percent of doctors smoke.”

To address the discrepancy, the PMA, said Dr. Tinio, has already issued a circular urging all their members to cease smoking or not to start the nasty habit. How could doctors encourage their patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle, after all, if they themselves exhibit unhealthy habits and practices?

But it is not just a matter of setting a good example. Giving up smoking would also save doctors’ lives (and protect their patients’ health, considering the effects of second-hand smoke) and allow them to serve more patients for a longer time.

But the fight against cancer involves not just doctors but all health personnel, from nurses, midwives, to barangay health workers. Literally, everyone must join this battle: government officials, teachers, community leaders, volunteers, church people, media and of course, survivors.

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