Salus populi est suprema lex – The health of the People is the highest Law (Cicero)
Advocate comes from the Latin word advocatus, which means "one called to aid” or a “pleader on one's behalf”. Other references relate it to “one who intercedes for another” or even “protector” or “champion”.
Advocates are often people who speak about specific issues that concern vulnerable members of the society and work together with them for an advocacy. An advocacy, on the other hand, is formed when there is an urgent need to support and enable people so that they may be equal partners on matters affecting them.
This is the case for patients and the people who care about them as they fight a common enemy--- the diseases that take away their strength, their potentials and their hopes.
FIGHTING A COMMON ENEMY
One of these enemy diseases is cancer.
The World Health Organization (WHO) disclosed that about 8.8 million people died of cancer in 2015, making it the second leading cause of death globally. It discriminates no one --- young and adult, men and women, rich and poor alike are affected. It is estimated that 1 out of 1,800 Filipinos is diagnosed with cancer each year or close to 280,000 new cancer cases in the Philippines annually. At the global level, cancers are expected to increase by 85 percent particularly for less developed countries like the Philippines by the year 2030.
Given the growing concern on cancer among Filipinos, the multi-stakeholder Cancer Coalition of the Philippines (CCPh) was recently established to put cancer prevention and management high on the agenda. The CCPh aims to advocate, plead, and intercede on behalf of the thousands of Filipino patients and their families who battle with cancer and their consequences each and every day.
The CCPh is bringing together relevant organizations to pool their expertise, resources and experiences to achieve a common goal of introducing and enhancing policies that will improve the overall health and well-being of cancer patients.
Members of the CCPh are well-respected organizations in the cancer advocacy such as the Philippine Cancer Society, composed of patients and healthcare professionals; I Can Serve Foundation, a patient support network for women with breast cancer; the Carewell Community Foundation, an organization providing support and education to people with cancer; Cancer Warriors Foundation, whose vision is that no Filipino child should have a diminished quality of life because of cancer; and Project Brave Kids, which provides social and family life support for children with cancer and their families.
Other members of the CCPh are organizations of medical specialists, namely, the Philippine Society of Oncology and the Philippine Society of Medical Oncologists.
The Humanati Network, a group promoting action that enables social changes; the Albert del Rosario Institute, a policy group that aims to contribute to national development; and the Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines, representing research-based providers of medicines in the country, round up the list of members of the Coalition.
A PERSONAL BATTLE
This advocacy to support patients with cancer has become personal to many. It is either they are cancer patient themselves or relatives of people who are warriors in the fight against cancer. Among the numerous individuals who have a personal advocacy for cancer patients are Representative Alfred Vargas and sister Bunny Vargas-Unlayao. They lost their mother to cancer two years ago, and as with other relatives who lost a loved one to a disease, they consider it as one of the most painful experiences in their lives.
During the recent launch of CCPh, Ms. Vargas-Unlayao called cancer a “monster” and a “traitor”. “It can give you the best news, it can give you the worst. You are never absolutely sure it’s gone, and when it’s there, you don’t know how fast it will work on you,” Ms. Vargas-Unlayao said in her statement. She added that while their battle brought their family together, cancer is not something she would welcome into their home.
Given their family’s experience with cancer, Rep. Vargas has filed proposed measures such as:
• House Bill 716, which declares the month of October every year as “Breast Cancer Awareness Month”;
• HB 1578 or the Breast and Cervical Cancer Protection Bill requiring PhilHealth to provide coverage for the diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer;
• HB 1851 or the Breast Cancer Protection Bill, which requires health insurance companies to provide coverage;
• HB 3497 or the Breast Cancer Detection Bill, which requires local government units to conduct quarterly breast cancer detection programs; and
• HB 3500 or the Prostate Cancer Public Awareness Act, which provides for a public education on prostate cancer and other leading types of cancer.
A number of bills have also been filed to ensure funding for cancer treatment and management. House Committee on Health chair Rep. Angelina Tan has filed HB 1743 or “An Act Providing Assistance to Indigent Cancer Patients”. The bill urges the Government to appropriate P1 billion to support the cancer medicine and treatment assistance program to be administered by PhilHealth. The proposed program shall prioritize indigent and underprivileged cancer patients. Another bill filed was HB 3089, which aims to grant full government subsidy to cancer patients; and HB 3441, which seeks to establish an indigent cancer patients assistance fund.
CANCER PREVENTION AND AWARENESS
Meanwhile, other bills are focusing on cancer research and infrastructure such as HB 268, seeking to establish a cancer treatment center in every region; HB 716, HB 1415 and HB 2593 that aim to propose a Philippine National Cancer Center; and HB 3049, creating a National Cancer Institute of the Philippines.
The WHO said that between 30% to 50% of cancers could be prevented by avoiding risk factors and implementing existing evidence-based prevention strategies. Even when cancer could affect any part of the body, many cancers could be cured if diagnosed early and treated adequately, added the international health agency.
This therefore makes cancer prevention and awareness high on the agenda. Measures filed include HB 2579, providing free cancer prevention, screening and early detection program for working class Filipinos in all government health facilities; HB 2798, seeking to raise awareness and educate breast cancer patients anticipating surgery, especially members of ethnic minority groups; HB 2579, establishing a program for public education on prostate cancer and other leading types of cancer; and HB 3365, requiring local government units to conduct a quarterly breast cancer detection program.
Cancer remains to be a complex disease that requires a whole of systems approach. Institutionalizing cancer care policies that consider all levels and stages of care would provide the needed momentum to provide better quality of life for patients and their families.
The CCPh is expected to be part of discussions aimed at establishing an integrated cancer control and management program that is interdisciplinary, multi-disciplinary, and patient-centered. It will also launch advocacy campaigns to help raise awareness about the prevention, early detection, treatment and management of cancer. Indeed, this multi-stakeholder collaboration could help in national efforts to attain the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases that aims to reduce, by 25%, premature mortality from cancer among other major diseases by 2025.
At the end of the advocacy, patients, their families, and the general public are expected to have more access to information, services and options. Ultimately, they are given the chance to collectively fight against a common enemy through this advocacy.
Teodoro B. Padilla is executive director of the Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Association of the Philippines. Email the author email@example.com or visit www.phap.org.ph.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.