PGH proposes cancer center for the poor

RAMILTIBAYAN/CC BY-SA 4.0/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

A cancer center proposed by the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) will provide optimal care for charity and paying patients in the same setting.  

“It’s dramatic to think about it. It’s like a social coup,” said Dr. Gerardo “Gap” D. Legaspi, a neurosurgeon and director of the PGH, adding that the facility will be akin to a private hospital. 

“Finally, in one hospital, you’ll have the poorest and the richest side-by-side. The poor won’t have to suffer in cramped wards anymore,” he told BusinessWorld in a March 18 Zoom call.   

UP-PGH presented its cancer care center proposal on March 15 to the technical board of the National Economic and Development Authority and the Department of Finance. The planned cancer center, which will take three years to build once approved, is the first public-private partnership for cancer. 

Seven companies (four foreign, three local) have signified interest in the project since it was made public in 2021.  

The proposed center will be housed in a 3,000-square-meter lot on the Padre Faura side of PGH. It is envisioned as a 15–20 storey building with 150 beds for charity patients — enough to service the 60,000 outpatient care consultations the hospital currently handles per year. The proposal also allows for a 50–150 private facility for paying patients.  

PGH has the most advanced cancer equipment to treat cancer at present, according to Dr. Legaspi. Among its facilities are a stereotactic radiosurgery unit for the radiation treatment of organs like the brain, a robotic surgery unit that enables less invasive surgery, and a next generation sequencing unit for the identification of tumor cells using genetic testing.   

“PGH is strengthening its role as a national cancer referral center. That’s why the cancer center is necessary,” he added. “One of its distinguishing services will be the full range of surgical procedures that cannot be offered by most hospitals — from eye cancer surgery to taking out brain tumors while the patient is awake.”  

The Department of Health supports UP-PGH by providing medications for breast, colorectal, pediatric, and gynecologic cancers, Dr. Legaspi said. 

“Despite all the support we get, we still shell out P400 million from our budget,” he said. “Because we want all [patients to be treated]. Kasi ’pag kulang, sayang ’yung treatment [Because uncompleted treatments are a waste]. They go back to zero.”   

Cancer was the third leading cause of death in the country during the first half of 2021, per the Philippine Statistics Authority. A 2020 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), meanwhile, ranked the Philippines as last in cancer preparedness in the Asia-Pacific region.  

Despite the progress afforded by its Universal Health Coverage program, the Philippines still faces challenges in terms of coverage and data collection, said Jesse Quigley Jones, editor of the EIU report, in a July 2021 media briefing.   

According to Dr. Legaspi, no one hospital can provide all the answers: “The most important goal now is to be the template, to study the best ways on how to implement the provisions of the National Integrated Cancer Control Act — from primary care all the way to advanced research and everything in between.”   

In September 2021, PGH broke ground for Felicidad Sy Hall, a 15-storey multispecialty building. — Patricia B. Mirasol  

Alagang Breast Friend, an ongoing cancer screening program under the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), conducts onsite mammograms in two vans donated by Hyundai Philippines that have been equipped with a digital mammogram and breast ultrasound machine. 

The hospital plans to acquire more vans to continue and expand this outreach program, which detects 9–10% of the cancer incidence among the communities visited, in contrast to the 2% pickup rate in hospital screenings.  

“Our experience is that, if you bring this service to communities, the chances of getting them earlier are much higher,” said PGH director Dr. Gerardo “Gap” D. Legaspiin a March 18 Zoom call. “If you bring [the services] to them, then they just step out of their homes.” — PBM