Continued fight vs childhood cancer pushed
Engaging parents more closely in the fight against childhood cancer is intended to improve survival rate. Childhood cancer is highly curable if diagnosed accurately and treated early. This would lessen the financial burden since the earlier the illness is dealt with, the shorter and less expensive medication will be needed.
“When it comes to childhood cancer, the best and most effective drugs alone cannot substitute for a strong culture of and commitment to involvement in practice of preventative health and wellness,” said Dr. Julius Lecciones, director of government-run Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC).
The PCMC is the national and referral center for childhood cancer and is the country’s leading institution for pediatric cancer research.
Lecciones related that in 2006, when he became the country coordinator for My Child Matters program in the Philippines, an innovative partnership between the Union for International Cancer Control and the Sanofi Espoir Foundation to reduce inequities in childhood cancer survival in low- and mid-income countries, he faced the challenge wherein fewer than two in 10 or 16 percent of Filipino children afflicted with cancer were able to survive.
He said: “The reasons behind would include parents brought their children to PCMC when the cancer was already at its late stage and thus, nearly impossible as well as very expensive to cure. A lot of the parents cannot bring their children to PCMC or any other hospitals because of distance or remoteness of their location. Parents cannot shoulder the cost of continuous treatment.”
Lecciones added: “In 2006, it is quite distressing to witness children prematurely dying of an otherwise curable disease. At that time, only two out of 10 children diagnosed with cancer will survive, in sharp contrast to at least 80 percent survival rate in developed countries.”
Today, the doctor revealed that even if cancer is diagnosed in 3,500 children mostly from poor families, over eight in 10, or 82 percent, of them survive and turn into healthy young adults.
The initial and succeeding financial grants of My Child Matters program in the country were 50,000 euros or about P2.5 million in 2006; 20,000 euros or around P1 million in 2007; and 200,000 euros or P10.7 million in 2013. With such funding, Lecciones was able to increase public awareness and knowledge of how parents and health-care professionals in barangay health centers would spot early signs of cancer in children.
He said: “Additionally, part of the funding also went to increasing the expertise of doctors and other health-care professionals in correctly diagnosing cancer even at its early stages so they could immediately refer these young patients to the proper hospitals. Through the funding that we received, we were also able to improve our reach from just one, which was previously only at PCMC, to 37 referral networks of public hospitals all over the country.”
The doctor also negotiated with PhilHealth, the country’s national health insurance program, to increase benefit coverage for leukemia patients up to P500,000, which is enough to cover the three-year chemotherapy drug supply for a child’s treatment.
Lecciones also revealed that he is now negotiating to extend the health department’s free chemotherapy program for two more years; as well as expand PhilHealth benefits to cover all types of cancer, not just leukemia.
Lecciones said: “What we have achieved thus far 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. We can sustain these achievements only if we can maintain successfully the engagement of government for active support and involvement.
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