MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) - Sen. Pia Cayetano called on the government to make the fight against cancer a priority, noting that the disease has been killing many children in the country not because of the illness itself but due to lack of access to diagnosis and treatment.
In a privilege speech on Tuesday in the presence of children with cancer, Cayetano said the Aquino administration must uphold children's rights to early and proper diagnosis of cancer, access affordable medicines, appropriate and quality medical treatment, follow-up care, services, and livelihood opportunities for survivors.
Cancer is among the leading causes of death among children aged 5 to 14, the senator said.
Sadly, she added that while children in developed countries like the United States survive the disease, most Filipino children don't.
"They die not because of cancer or the limitations of modern science. They die because of constraints posed by poverty and the families' inability to get early diagnosis, access life saving drugs and afford timely, appropriate treatment," she said.
"If this situation is allowed to continue, many more children with cancer will suffer and die needlessly. Many more families and communities will be impoverished due to catastrophic treatment costs."
In particular, Cayetano proposed that the government do the following:
1. Expand the life-saving program "Free Access to Drugs of Kids with Leukemia" to include other childhood cancers such as retinoblastoma and osteosarcoma, which can lead to blindness and loss of limbs.
2. Ensure that the inclusion of leukemia drugs in the priority list of the Cheaper Medicines Law be continued, as well as ensure the inclusion of non-leukemia childhood cancer medicines in the priority list of medicines.
3. Strengthen the Philippines' national health systems and services for childhood cancer by establishing regional cancer centers all over the country, including childhood cancer information and initiatives in maternal and child-health programs, and providing better access to vaccines against cancer-related infections, among others.
4. Expand PhilHealth's out-patient coverage to include diagnostic services, supportive care services, and complete treatment of those affected by childhood cancers.
5. Promote community-based actions and initiatives for families of kids with cancer, undertake high impact and multi-sectoral information campaigns on the signs and symptoms of childhood cancers as well as break the stigma and misconceptions associated with them, and develop educational programs for kids with cancer.
"We should not allow them to face and fight cancer alone," Cayetano told her fellow senators. "One avoidable death is one death too many."