It is a common mindset among Filipinos to have life-changing operations abroad due to the belief that foreign hospitals or specialists can do it better or it is more affordable. But times are changing as more and more local medical facilities are specializing in complicated surgeries to provide this option to Filipinos.
A good example is how liver transplantation can now be done in the Philippines. Hospitals such as The Medical City are equipped with a competent medical team and high-tech equipment specifically for complicated operations like this.
Local liver transplantations
Liver disease is a health concern in the Philippines. According to data from the World Health Organization around one in 10 people have chronic hepatitis B and six in 1,000 have chronic hepatitis C. If left untreated, hepatitis B or C can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even death, as it is one of the top causes of cancer deaths in the Philippines.
For severe cases, liver transplantation is often the solution and the good news is it is an operation locally available.
The Medical City (TMC) established the Center for Liver Disease Management and Transplantation (CLDMT) in 2008.
"We have all the facilities and all the services that are needed in order to be able to carry out a liver transplant," said Dr. Maria Vanessa De Villa, a pioneering liver transplant surgeon and the head of TMC's Center for Liver Health and Transplantation (formerly known as CLDMT). "We have an established liver transplant program here already at The Medical City, it took time but now we have already acquired some experience and I think we have the capability and the expertise. Our outcomes are not bad and I think the best part is that we can take good care of you here."
Liver transplantation is a difficult, resource-intensive operation that is why it is not a commonplace service that every hospital can put up. A hospital will need advanced equipment, robust support services, and experienced healthcare professionals with seamless teamwork.
"It is a big project, you have two patients all the time. It is like you have three operations: you remove the sick liver, you get the liver from the donor, whether alive or brain dead, and then you put it inside the recipient. I always say it is like a three-in-one operation that you have to do consecutively, in the same day, same sitting," Dr. De Villa shared. "You need two operating rooms, you need two teams, and you have to coordinate all of that."
On January 7, 2011, the hospital's all-Filipino team of doctors led by Dr. De Villa performed the country's first successful pediatric liver transplant on Catherine Erica Buenaventura. Since then, The Medical City has a track record of 22 successful liver transplants both adult and pediatric.
Just recently, TMC did another successful pediatric liver transplant on Sophie Aguilo.
Aguilo was suffering from biliary atresia and her parents sought the president's help for the expensive operation she needed. President Rodrigo Duterte encouraged the family to have it done locally instead of going to India, confident in the capabilities of Filipino doctors.
This led to a consortium between the Office of the President, Department of Health, Philippine Children's Medical Center, and TMC called the Pediatric Access to Liver Transplant (PAsLiT) program. The consortium hopes to aid more patients with liver diseases with the help of Filipino doctors.
Benefits of having your operation locally
Opting to have one's surgery closer to home means the patient is closer to a complete support group. Oftentimes, people getting treatment abroad can only bring one member of the family or a trusted friend, but with a local operation, anyone can easily express their well-wishes and support. The operation will also no longer require a plane ride, thereby cutting on travel costs.
As Dr. De Villa has said, since it is just at home, patients can form a good relationship with their medical team as there are no language or cultural barriers present. After all, having a liver transplant is not just a one-time affair, it comes with a lifetime of aftercare.
Yet despite these benefits, TMC's Center for Liver Health and Transplantation is not seeing the number of patients that correlates to the rising cases of Filipinos with liver issues.
Challenges at the local stage
According to Dr. De Villa, the main challenges are cost-issues and donor availability.
The whole operation, from pre-transplant evaluation to the actual transplant proper and aftercare, racks up a hefty hospital bill. It is a very complicated procedure needing a lot of elements to work, that is why costs are quite high. Unlike other countries where liver transplantation is covered by government insurance or funding, the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) currently does not have this feature, that is why few can afford the costly operation. Apart from that, countries like India or Singapore are offering high-end surgeries at competitive prices, which is why some Filipinos choose this route.
Lack of liver donors is another. Compared to Western countries with mature organizations facilitating organ donation from deceased donors and transplantation and waiting lists that reach thousands, the Philippines is still catching up. Donors are not readily available that is why despite local doctors having the capability and equipment to execute liver transplantation, it is often held back by the absence of a liver graft to transplant.
The challenge lies in public awareness and education. Not many know that there is a possibility to cure advanced liver disease and even liver cancer with liver transplantation that is a viable option locally. With the proper information, patients can consider this solution and gain confidence in Filipino doctors. It can also encourage families of brain-dead patients to donate their loved one's organs to save a life.
"When we started this program, this was really meant for Filipinos, the country, not just for TMC kasi we said magiging kailangan talaga ito sa buong bansa and it is difficult," said Dr. De Villa.
(When we started this program, this was really meant for Filipinos, not just for TMC because we said that this difficult operation will be needed in the country.)
Despite all these hurdles, the team is hopeful that through referrals and information dissemination, more Filipinos will become aware that these complicated operations can now be done successfully in their home country, and that they can save more lives.
To learn more about the facilities and services offered at The Medical City, visit its website or reach out through its official Facebook page.
NOTE: BrandNews articles are promotional features from our sponsors and not news articles from our editorial staff.