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Multistakeholder collaboration sought to give sustainable aid to cancer patients

/ 01:05 AM June 13, 2015

Cancer treatment puts a heavy financial burden on patients and their families. Because its treatment often pushes patients to bankruptcy, cancer is considered a “catastrophic disease.” This is particularly true in the Philippines, where the majority of the population still depends on out-of-pocket spending to pay for most healthcare services and medicines.

To help address this problem, research-based Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis launched the Glivec international patient assistance program (Gipap) in the Philippines in 2003. Gipap is one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching cancer patient access programs ever implemented on a global scale, and is the first global direct-to-patient access program. Through Gipap, Novartis provides poor patients with free treatment for several forms of cancer.

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Access to cancer treatment

To ensure program sustainability and benefit for more patients, Novartis broadened Gipap in 2008 to the Novartis Oncology Access (NOA) program. NOA is an innovative shared-contribution access program that helps poor Filipino patients gain access to cancer treatments. Novartis Healthcare Philippines helps Filipino patients enrolled in the NOA program comply with treatment by subsidizing the portion of the cost of their full-year treatment that they cannot afford to pay.

“Without NOA, I would not be able to afford my cancer medication. Thanks to this innovative patient assistance program, I continue to enjoy life with my family and friends,” said one Filipino patient with cancer who enrolled in the NOA program.

Since 2003, the NOA program has benefited some 3,000 poor Filipino cancer patients. From 2008 to 2013, the total treatment value provided by Novartis is estimated at P6 billion, with around 1,000 Filipino patients receiving treatment through the NOA program.

Fortunately, there have been positive developments in the last decade. Since the launch of Gipap in 2003, the Philippine economy has steadily improved; as a result, the government is now able to spend more on healthcare.

“We appeal to the government to allocate more funding for oncology so that more Filipinos, especially underprivileged patients, can gain access to effective cancer treatments,” said Dr. Felycette Gay Martinez-Lapus, past president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology.

Substantial increase

There has been a substantial increase in the Department of Health budget. In 2008, the DOH budget was a little under P19 billion which increased slightly to almost P24 billion in 2009. When President Aquino took office in 2010, the DOH budget was about P25 billion. The DOH budget for 2014 was almost P90 billion. PhilHealth has improved its membership coverage from 54 percent in 2003 to 85 percent of the population in 2013, with an increasing number of packages for cancer and leukemia.

“Health is everybody’s business. We call on all stakeholders—government agencies, private companies, NGOs, civil society organizations—to join forces in providing sustainable funding support to underprivileged Filipinos struggling with cancer,” said Dr. Ivy Mae Escasa, member of the Philippine Society of Hematology and Blood Transfusion.

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