Monday, August 19, 2013

Stem Cell 1: PhilHealth to Cover SCT?

I was following the stem cell treatment (SCT) controversy in the Philippines recently.  The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) and the Philippine Society of Stem Cell Medicine (PSSCM), both headed by Dr. Leo Olarte, vs the 21 other specialized medical societies. The former group says stem cell treatment can cure many diseases, the latter camp says it is not true, that stem cell is proven only for bone marrow transplant and blood-related cancer, I think, and that stem cell in other diseases are still under clinical trials.

But one problem came up when DOH Secretary Enrique Ona has generally sided with the PMA-PSSCM camp and even castigated the 21 medical societies for questioning the latter. Sec. Ona is an Honorary Chairman of PSSCM.

Today, I posted this news story from the Philppine Star and posted in the MeTA Philippines email loop. The images I got from the web, I just added them here.

By Mayen Jaymalin
 MANILA, Philippines - Ordinary people may eventually have the chance to undergo expensive stem cell therapy.  
Health Secretary Enrique Ona said the Department of Heath (DOH) is looking at the possibility of including stem cell therapy in the benefit packages of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) if the medical sector accepted it as a standard care.  
“Our dream is that when this type of therapy already has a standard of care, its cost will definitely go down. By then, hopefully, (PhilHealth) can offer it already,” Ona said.            
He expressed belief that stem cell therapy has the potential to cure diseases such as cancer, autism, diabetes, stroke, liver disease, spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease....

Stem cell treatment soon to be covered by PhilHealth? Even if it's still under clinical trials for many diseases? And such treatment is not cheap, many practitioners there charging 6 digits, even 7 digits for their rich patients.

If this will push through, ubusan ng pera yan. What's next, PhilHealth will raise the annual premium of members because funds are running out fast? 

If we want UHC, government, the DOH and LGUs in particular, should focus on primary healthcare, in fighting communicable and infectious diseases, and childhood diseases. If people want stem cell treatment and risk their lives and money for the promise of miracle, let them spend their own money, why drag along pooled fund, especially that people are forced, coerced and arm-twisted to contribute to that fund by law?

A lot of distortions in healthcare and other social issues are often initiated by the government itself.
I just hope that such PhilHealth plan will be junked. Or they want another public clamor against it, ala anti-pork barrel robbery movement?

Three members of the Council commented:

(a) From Leonie Ocampo of PPhA:

How sad of our DOH to be supporting an initiative and/or treatment not proven by clinical trails yet, more so planning to even put this into the Philhealth benefit package. 

Philippines with its limited resources must FOCUS in the MUST DOs in health care delivery. A lot of problems from procurement, handling and storage, distribution, prescribing, dispensing, administration and monitoring of patients are still into a lot of problems and need government attention to manage and control with the right structure and processes; then here is the department tasks to put all of these in place going to something not proven yet . . wow, I could imagine how much of the people's money will be wasted again. 

Yes, I agree with you Noy, FOCUS should also be given first and foremost on primary health care . . . right structure, right processes, right people and the right resources identified and provided. Let's stop talk, talk and talk but let us start to act in the right direction, sa tuwid na daan. You know what I mean.

(b) From Doc K

Dear all, Doh did not say at anytime that phic will cover stem cell.  Sec Ona has not sided with any groups. Pls do not believe all newspaper reports. Ask why these misleading news are surfacing over the last month.

(c) From Doc Delen:

Dear Nonoy,

Very well said!!!  I totally agree with you!  Really, the priorities of this government is something that we should question.  They are not looking at the needs of the vast majority of the Filipino which can be easily addressed if we put our money on public health and primary health services.  Primary health care is an approach that is not being espoused by the DOH when in fact PHC continues to be the backbone of good health strategies.  Secretary Ona, whose experience is very hospital based, prioritizes tertiary care and hospital centered care which is more expensive.  Certainly, if the government's budget for health is directly given to primary care services, improving the local health center facilities and making health care, including medicines, more available and accessible, then we do not have to have Philhealth that still screens what can be supported or not.  People will now patronize the health centers and exercise their right to health.  This will improve their health seeking behavior and  know that they can avail of services immediately.  They need not wait for their condition to worsen, which is what is currently happening, necessitating a tertiary care consult.  Then, eventually, we can have more healthy people who can now be more productive and contribute more to the economy of the country (but of course there should also be concomitant changes in the economic and political spheres as in providing decent and justly paid jobs, humane housing conditions, good nutrition, good education, etc).

It is appalling that Secretary Ona can think of stem cell therapy first to be included in a Philhealth package before he thinks of improving our basic health care services.  Stem cell therapy is very new and still under study and we should not deceive the people and worse, make money from them as indeed this is a very expensive intervention.  And to use our people's money for this is truly something we should not allow!

Thanks Nonoy for your very good insights on this issue.

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