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Speech of Sec. Enrique T. Ona - 3rd Asian Society of Head and Neck Oncology Congress

March 20, 2013

Radisson Blu Hotel, Cebu City

Greetings (VIPs)!

I would like tocongratulate the Philippine Society of Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery together with the Asian Society of Head and Neck Oncology (ASHNO) for hosting this 3rd Asian Society of Head and Neck Oncology Congress.        To our foreign guests and speakers, I give my warm welcome to all of you in what we call the Queen City of the South and of course, what we call the beautiful Island of Cebu.

We live in a time when the Philippines distinctly depicts the convergence of disease patterns found in both developed and most developing countries.  Our nation suffers from double burden of diseases; as we struggle to overcome infectious diseases, maternal, newborn and child health problems, and of course non- communicable diseases (NCDs) which are also rising rapidly not only in the Philippines but in this part of the world.

Sadly, we are facing an epidemic of non-communicable diseases represented by the “fatal four” diseases, namely: cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease. These diseases cause the far majority of NCD-related deaths globally. In 2008, the National Statistics Office of the Philippines reported that these four diseases were responsible for 54% of all deaths in the Philippines. Disturbingly, 30 to 50 percent of deaths attributed to NCDs occurred prematurely, that is before 60 years of age.

Worldwide, head and neck cancer ranks as the 6th most common malignancy.  While the overall incidence rates show a declining trend in both sexes, for example, in India, Hongkong, Brazil and Unites States, an increasing trend is observed in most countries particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, even in Japan, Canada and Australia.  The incidence of oropharyngeal cancer is higher in males than in females with ratios ranging from 2:1 to 5:1 in Asian countries I believe except in the Philippines and Vietnam where incidence is higher among women, surprisingly.

As for the Philippine picture, data from our 2010 Philippine Cancer Facts and Estimates showed a declining incidence of oral cavity cancer in both sexes with an annual decline of 3.3% in males and 4.1% in females. Well, this trend can be attributed to changing prevalence of risk factors as a result of the Department of Health’s strong health advocacies such as tobacco control efforts and healthy lifestyle.  And I believe that with the passage of our sin tax, there must be a significant decline in cases in the coming years.

Undeniably, several environmental factors have been linked to head and neck cancers. Eighty- five percent (85%) of the oropharyngeal cancers is caused by tobacco, which includes active and passive smoking. The combination of smoking, betel nut chewing and alcohol consumption is a very strong risk factor.

Cognizant to the interplay of social and environmental determinants on the prevalence of NCDs which includes head and neck cancer, our Department of Health is orchestrating all necessary steps toaddress the modifiable risk factors such as tobacco smoking, alcohol intake, unhealthy eating habits and sedentary lifestyle through our various health policies and programs today.

          Tobacco control efforts in the Philippines reeled off with the passage of the two laws, namely; the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 and after 15 long years, the Act Restructuring the Excise Tax on Alcohol and Tobacco Products or commonly known as our Sin Tax, despite the strong lobbying of the tobacco industry.

          With the passage of Sin Tax, we hope to reduce the NCD problem in the country and save thousands of lives from the perils of tobacco and alcohol use. It cannot be overly emphasized that taxation is the single most effective way to reduce tobacco and alcohol consumption particularly for the young. 

          This measure is expected to generate additional government revenues worth about P 34 billion more or less. And eighty- five percent (85%) of which will be allocated to fund our program of Universal Health Care or what we call vernacularly KalusugangPangkalahatan. With this we intend to expand the coverage and benefits of the National Health Insurance Program with particular emphasis to those who have been left out or overlooked in the past couple of years. And this is the poorest segment of the population. At the same time, allocations nationwide shall be made, based on political and district subdivisions, for medical assistance as well as for the improvement of our health facilities.

Aside from the Sin Tax, our department together with our partners, particularly the local government units (LGUs), are gearing up in starting or maintaining 100% smoke free public places. And this is shown by the increasing number of local government units awarded with what we call thrDOH RED ORCHID AWARDS and OUTSTANDING HEALTHY LIFESTYLE ADVOCACY AWARDS. And another strategy to combat smoking is the provision of SMOKINGCESSATION services of our regional offices, our hospitals, and even some public places.

The Sin Tax, the advocacies on smoke- free public places, and the smoking cessation program are part of the interventions incorporated in ourNATIONAL TOBACCO CONTROL STRATEGY (2011 – 2016), and I believe, this is the Philippines’ first-ever comprehensive and coordinated plan of action to advocate the implementation of the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control with clear and measurable targets. The DOH has established a National Tobacco Control Coordinating Office under our National Center for Health Promotion or NCHP to orchestrate various efforts.

All these efforts contribute to the implementation of the NATIONAL POLICY ON STRENGTHENING THE PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF CHRONIC LIFESTYLE- RELATED NON COMMUNICABLE DISEASES which we started last April 2011 which clearly defines the action framework in the country’s fight against NCDs, taking into account lifestyle change, early detection and treatment at clinical level.

In line with our vision of achieving Universal Health Care for all our people, improving our health insurance coverage and utilization of its services are being undertaken simultaneously with efforts to upgrade our health facilities and hospitals.   We are optimistic that care for non- communicable diseases will be accessible and affordable to all including our poor Filipino families and with the health facility enhancement; we hope that our health facilities will be better equipped to take care of our NCD cases. 

Currently, our health insurance provides in-patient and out-patient packages for some selected non communicable diseases such as the 23 common medical and surgical conditions which includes among others selected cases that are catastrophic. Our health insurance has nowcome up with the Z BENEFIT PACKAGE to address these diseases and recently, we just unveiled the expanded benefits for what we call selected non communicable diseases like heart diseases, cancers, specifically cervical and breast as well as the upcoming coverage of colon cancer.

For the past three years, a total of P15.4 billion was invested to upgrade, rehabilitate and construct health facilities through the Health Facilities Enhancement Program (HFEP) toimprove availability and access to quality health care services.

Aside from the national funding for upgrading the health facilities, we have laid the groundwork for the implementation of various Public-Private Partnership (PPP) schemes to modernize our 39 hospitals, 9 cancer centers, 8 specialty centers for heart diseases, and 7 centers for other specialties that need other services. At the moment, the DOH has a public private partnership unit that will assist the local government unit to improve their facilities in their efforts to improve their facilities also using the PPP strategy.

Well, these are just some of the advocacies, which will ensure the realization of our program of universal health care for our people. This vision can become a reality with the continuing support of the medical societies, especially the Philippine Society of Otorhinolaryngology and Head and Neck Society.

With that, I would like to congratulate you all once again and thank you for your continuing and invaluable support to the national government. And on a last note, I would like to ask you to enjoy your stay in Cebu and to be more specific, they say it is more fun in Cebu and of course, the Philippines.