, May 21, 2024

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Dear DOH, Fund Cancer Patients.

  •   5 min reads
Dear DOH, Fund Cancer Patients.
by Susan V. Ople

“Toots” is my nickname. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer last year, and had breast surgery to remove the tumor done, two weeks before our first-ever enhanced community quarantine in March of last year. This column is dedicated to all the brave cancer patients that I have met, and the doctors, nurses, radiologists and medical workers that continue to care for them amid this global pandemic.

Listen up, DOH. I know you’re busy but….

Why in God’s holy name did you exclude a specific and separate allocation in your proposed 2022 national budget for the country’s cancer fund? Aren’t you supposed to be on the side of indigent cancer patients who troop to government hospitals hoping for your help to get their tumors removed? And how about the children? Kids who can’t even spell the word “cancer” and yet are waitlisted for chemotherapy, braving Covid-19 and the rains, just to have a fighting chance for a next birthday? Don’t you have any idea what these kids and their parents are going through?

I am sure that you do, Department of Health (DOH). Your department is run by a doctor and is primarily tasked by the State to ensure quality health care for all Filipinos. And yet, you failed all cancer patients and survivors, the people who were most jubilant over the passage of the cancer act in 2019—because you made funding for cancer programs invisible to the eye, obliterating all progress made in support of a more robust cancer prevention, screening, and treatment programs. Why include your proposed funding for cancer programs with equally vital concerns under the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases?

Why would you do that, knowing that cancer is the second leading cause of death for Filipinos with 62,300 deaths tallied last year? As such, a separate budget would enable our legislators, health and cancer specialists and cancer patients and survivors track the progress of such spending in curbing this disease.

A Callous Sin of Omission

I cannot comprehend the callousness of this omission; the sheer barrenness of compassion for cancer patients that have already so much to bear on their weary shoulders.

I have been in that place where chemotherapy is done, and you crawl into bed afterwards, hit by a fatigue that only sleep can cure. I have gone through radiation, like being in a giant microwave, with the heat broiling the inside, anticipating that intermittent whirring sound, while praying for healthy organs to be spared. I count myself blessed and lucky enough to make it through all the prescribed treatments. But what about my fellow cancer patients who can’t afford to have their tumors removed?

RECENT PHOTO. "I have been there, you crawl into bed after chemotherapy, hit by a fatigue that only sleep can cure. I have gone through radiation, like being in a giant microwave, with the heat broiling the inside, praying for healthy organs to be spared. I count myself blessed. But what about those who can’t afford the treatments?"

What about Rowena, a street vendor from Bulacan, who has been diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer?

She scrounges for transport fare every time she has an appointment to see her surgeon at the East Avenue Medical Center. She sells kwek-kwek and siomai in a pushcart to earn a living. Whenever she misses a day of work to follow up on her surgery and chemotherapy, her family goes hungry.

On top of missing several days of work and raising funds to get to Manila and back, she is now required to have a swab test, which for a street vendor is quite expensive. Rowena is now in a state of financial inertia, and scared witless of that tumor that remains alive and growing day by day.

Under the Cancer Act, patients like Rowena would have access to funds to assist patients in gaining timely access to required services from screening, diagnosis to rehabilitation and reintegration. That was the intent of the authors of the NICCA. Instead, the DOH chose to embed funds to fight cancer into a lumpsum budget for non-communicable diseases. Kung baga, makikihati lang sa iba, sa kabila ng nakasaad sa batas.

Sen. Nancy Binay slammed the DOH for this move.

“The DOH should have taken our cue when we allocated P620-million last year for cancer. That’s the law and a long-term priority. Instead of moving forward, this is a step back that we should correct. When survival matters, you don’t make lifelines invisible.”
Senator slams removal of funding for cancer treatment in 2022 budget | Butch Fernandez
Sen. Nancy Binay blasted the removal of the funding item allotted for cancer treatment in the 2022 national budget with no clear support for cancer patients. Questioning the Duterte administration and the Department of Health’s action seen to affect thousands of cancer patients, Binay bemoaned the m…

"Shame! shame!"

The Cancer Coalition of the Philippines has this to say: “It is disconcerting and disappointing, that the proposed 2022 National Expenditure Program of the DOH has failed to include the mandated line items on the National Integrated Cancer Control Program and the Cancer Assistance Fund. This is a direct violation of the provision, as stated in Republic Act 11215 or the NICCA. It also contravenes Rule X, Section 35 [Appropriations] of the IRR.”

“Further, the absence of a separate fund for the Cancer Assistance Fund, at a time when patients need it most, is alarming and life-threatening to cancer patients, already struggling with diminished assistance from PCSO, DSWD, Malasakit and non-government charity organizations.”

DOH, you tell us to wear face shields and we follow. The law tells you to allot a separate and distinct budget for cancer patients, and you bail out on us.

Shame on you.

First published in The BusinessMirror.

About the Author

Susan V. Ople heads the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, a nonprofit organization that deals with labor and migration issues. Susan was the first Filipino to serve in the Board of the UN Voluntary Trust Fund to Help Victims of Human Trafficking; and the first Filipino to receive the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Achievement Award.

Susan is a solo parent who writes poems and essays while fighting human trafficking, labor exploitation and breast cancer.

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