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Is Asia Ready to Fight Cancer?

professor anne lee
Professor Anne Lee is the Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society.

How are countries dealing with the cancer load? Roche Diagram magazine uncovers the impact on Asia’s healthcare systems and the strategies countries are adopting in the face of this challenge.

Healthcare systems around the world, including in Asia Pacific, are dealing with a public health crisis – the rising burden of cancer. In 2001, due to rising cancer cases, Hong Kong recognised the need for a comprehensive plan to tackle the disease and established a cancer coordinating committee. “Cancer control requires a multi-stakeholder and coordinated effort,” says Professor Anne Lee, Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Anti-Cancer Society.

“Existing health systems should be strengthened by robust policies and appropriate funding, not only to cope with the overall needs of treatment but also to achieve primary prevention and early detection of the most frequent treatable cancers.”

Many developed economies in Asia have national guidelines in place to manage cancer demands – from diagnosis to treatment and monitoring. Hong Kong runs an efficient system with 6% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) expenditure on health, evenly split between the public and private sectors. Prof Lee also suggests that countries in Asia Pacific should monitor key indicators like incidence and mortality to assess the effectiveness of interventions at a population level.

“To collect such data, governments need to invest in cancer registries as part of a broader health data system.”

While easily accessible care exists in many Asian countries, in developing countries it can be a big challenge. Across Asia, the financial burden of cancer is heavy, especially in countries with little coverage.

A cancer diagnosis can have a profound economic effect on individuals and their households, especially among the poor and under-insured. Data shows that the Philippines is among the countries with the highest out-of-pocket cancer treatment costs.1 To address the growing number of cancer patients and the need to provide for them, President Rodrigo Duterte signed Republic Act 11215 or the National Integrated Cancer Control Act (NICCA) earlier this year, increasing government investment in cancer control.

Under the new law, cancer patients, persons living with cancer and cancer survivors will be classified as Persons with Disabilities (PWD) and will be entitled to the same benefits. Dr Clarito Cairo, Program Manager from the Department of Health’s Disease Prevention and Control Bureau says,

Cancer is considered financially catastrophic not only to the families of cancer patients but also to the economic growth of the country.

The Cancer Law aims to address the entire cancer journey – from awareness to survivorship, prioritising the middle and lower class patients during the first phase of implementation.

“Legislation is a vital tool in achieving long-term cancer control. Irrespective of who heads the state, government or the Department of Health, the cancer control program will continue as long as the budget is assured and provided for in the law,” says Dr Cairo. 

When it comes to what is best for patients, success against cancer hinges on the level of collaboration among different stakeholders – from healthcare providers and researchers to policy makers and civil society – and in the case of cancer, Asia is taking steps in the right direction. 


¹Glob Health Action. 2018; 11(1): 1483638. T. Ulep, V. G., & O. dela Cruz1, N. A. (2013). Analysis of Out-of-Pocket Expenditures in the Philippines (Volume XL, Numbers 1 & 2).

*The information contained in this article was extracted from Edition 2019, Vol 6.

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