In 2006, the Union for International Cancer Control, a global organization that seeks to accelerate the fight against cancer worldwide, awarded the Philippine Society of Pediatric Oncology a 50,000-euro (about P2.5 million) grant to finance its “My Child Matters” awareness campaign.
The following year, the campaign received an additional 20,000 euros (around P1 million) to continue its mission to increase the cure rate of cancer in children by at least 50 percent within five years.
Dr. Julius Lecciones, project coordinator of the My Child Matters program in the Philippines, said: “Of the estimated 3,500 Filipino children diagnosed with cancer each year, we found that 80 percent of these cases could be cured. Unfortunately, only 16 to 20 percent attain long-term survival because their cancers were no longer curable or the treatments were too expensive and most healthcare facilities were difficult if not out of reach by families living outside or far from urban centers. In 2006, we decided to do something about this situation and the financial grants really helped us speed up and expand our program.”
The doctor, who is also executive director of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC), was glad to report that today, 70 percent of young patients are diagnosed at the hospital when their cancers are still in an early phase and thus, more curable.
Lecciones said: “Moreover, since 2006 the program’s public awareness campaign had helped reduce late diagnosis of cancer in children in the Philippines from 70 percent to 30 percent. The number of networks has also increased, to the current 31 from just 13 in 2006, ensuring expanded pediatric cancer management outside of Metro Manila. The number of pediatric oncology-hematology specialists has also grown from 20 at the start of the program to 56 today.” The program recently received another 200,000 euros (P10.7 million) from UICC and Sanofi Espoir Corporate Foundation of Paris, France (corporate foundation of the French drug giant, Sanofi-Aventis).
The grant was officially handed over last Feb. 15 during the observance of the International Childhood Cancer Day.
“This financial grant is indeed most welcome as the ‘My Child Matters’ awareness campaign is now extended for three more years. They must have noted that the treatment abandonment rate has been reduced to 10 percent from the previous 80 percent. In fact, for leukemia cases at the Philippine Children’s Medical Center in Manila, now the national reference center for children with cancer, the healing rate has climbed from 16 percent in 2010 to 68 percent in 2011,” the doctor said.
Lawyer Darwin Mariano, Sanofi-Aventis Philippines public affairs director, announced to the media the grant during the health forum held at Annabel’s restaurant on Tomas Morato Avenue, Quezon City.
“We are proud that the Philippine initiative is again chosen as one of grantees of the UICC and Sanofi Espoir Foundation (there are only 20 currently active projects in 16 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America),” said Mariano who added that the grant will be used to galvanize support of the public for a national comprehensive childhood cancer control and management plan.
“As a part of the grant, public awareness campaign will be further strengthened for the early detection and effective treatment of cancer so that parents of children who are cancer patients will be enlightened that cancer is curable,” Lecciones explained.
He also added that part of the grant will also be used to help the 24 collaborating government hospitals improve the capabilities of their facilities for accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of the dreaded disease similar to the quality service being provided by the PCMC.
“Our gains in increasing survival rates from 16 percent to 68 percent at the PCMC are still fragile and will be lost if we do not involve all sectors of society to put childhood cancer in the forefront of the national health agenda,” Lecciones stressed.
He said a portion of the grant will be allocated in pushing for the passage of laws in Congress that will provide further support in treating children with cancer.
Lecciones added they were able to engage government’s active involvement particularly from the Department of Health’s National Center for Pharmaceutical Access and Management through its ALL Medicines Access Program (Allmap) which has been providing free chemotherapy drugs to poor patients in government hospitals since 2010.
Last year, the Philhealth Z-package for acute lymphocytic leukemia also expanded the benefit package for reimbursable expenses.