Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Philippines - Philippine Cancer Healthcare Spends Less Than Southeast Asian Counterparts

With the shift in healthcare priorities in the sustainable development goals, non-communicable diseases such as cancer are becoming a global priority and urgent action against cancer in Southeast Asia in particular is recommended.

A new study has shown that the disease has become an overwhelming burden on society and healthcare systems in Southeast Asian regions.

The study, Asean Costs in Oncology (ACTION), conducted by the George Institute for Global Health showed that a cancer diagnosis in Southeast Asia is disastrous within only 12 months for 75 percent of new patients.

Just a year after diagnosis 29 percent of the participants of the study died while 48 percent experienced financial catastrophe. Additionally, almost half or 44 percent of those who survived experienced economic hardship as a consequence of the cancer, with the majority using their life savings for cancer care.

Socioeconomically disadvantaged patients with advanced cancer stages were common and particularly vulnerable to adverse economic outcomes and poor survival.

In the Philippines, cancer is the second leading cause of death following cardiovascular disease. In particular, women in the country are negatively affected by cancer with incidences of breast, cervix and ovarian cancer almost doubling in recent years.

But despite the increase in cancer incidence in the country, public healthcare spend to help treat and combat the disease has remained low compared to its Southeast Asian neighbors.

In 2015, research was conducted to benchmark Philippine healthcare spend and government support towards cancer care as compared to Vietnam, which has a similar gross domestic product (GDP) to the Philippines, and to Thailand, an aspirational country with double the GDP of the Philippines.

In the Philippines, overall healthcare spend for cancer is comparable with that of Vietnam and Thailand at 4.4 percent of GDP in 2013.

Of that total spend, only 32 percent is contributed by public sector reimbursement or assistance, 12 percent by private sector assistance (insurance and others) and the rest of the 57 percent is paid out of pocket by cancer patients.

In Vietnam, 42 percent is covered by the public sector, 9 percent by the private sector and 49 percent is out of pocket – 8 percent lower than in the Philippines. In Thailand, 80 percent of cancer healthcare spend is provided by the public sector, 9 percent by the private sector and only 11 percent is out of pocket expense for patients.

Additionally, the Philippines has a very low percentage of access to innovative cancer treatments compared to Thailand and Vietnam.

In the Philippine Costs in Oncology Study (PESO Study), a significant percentage of cancer patients either suffer financial ruin or die within a year of diagnosis due to lack of funds, support and access to medication. Financial difficulties prevented access to treatment, hindered medical intervention and prevented patients from being able to afford medicines.

These statistics may not have been as bad if patients had better support and access to treatments and medications. Funding agencies such as the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) can help cancer patients fund treatments and medication and for many, PCSO was the only reason they were able to fight the dreaded disease.

Steps need to be taken to address and prevent cancer, such as accessible and affordable screening programs to catch cancer earlier, providing a better safety net for cancer patients who are wage earners, a significant increase in reimbursements for cancers, support for cancer patient funding agencies such as PCSO and cancer post-hospitalization benefits.

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