MANILA, PHILIPPINES – As the country observes World TB Day today, Sen. Ralph Recto called on government to plowback a portion of its good fiscal numbers in fighting tuberculosis, a scourge which claims the lives of 27,000 Filipinos a year.
“It kills 75 a day, more than the 67 policemen, rebels and civilians who died in the Mamasapano tragedy. TB is a massacre which happens daily. It is our country’s no. 8 top killer,” he said.
“Since 1990, TB has killed 747,000, or six times the present population of San Juan (City),” Recto said.
While the Philippines has scored modest victories in wiping out the communicable disease caused by the Mycobacterium tuberculosis, like achieving an 88 percent cure rate, above the world average, “much remains to be done,” Recto said.
“First, there is the challenge of high TB prevalence rate. 438,000 of our people have it, according to the latest World Health Organization (WHO) data. Globally, we’re 9th in the WHO watch-list of 22 high-burdened countries which constitute 80% of all TB cases worldwide,” the senator said.
“But even if we cure more people, more new cases crop up every year. In 2013, 229,918 new cases were reported,” Recto said.
“We have 26 new TB patients every hour,” he said. “In 2012, 1 in 10 of new cases, or 22,000, were children.”
To cure each patient, the cost is P8,500 to P10,000, which according to Recto, “necessitates a bigger government equity in shouldering the cost, as this cannot wholly be an out-of the-pocket expense of a poor patient who cannot.”
But in the case of the multidrug resistant TB, the treatment course costs P250,000.
Sadly, according to WHO assessment of the country’s “financing TB control”, 48 percent of the amount required by the annual national anti-TB program remains unfunded.
[pq]For 2014, the national government budget to fight TB is P1.1 billion, which is augmented by about the same amount from official development aid.[/pq]
Recto has filed a proposed Alis TB Act which arrays guaranteed funding sources for the TB eradication drive.
One of this is “deepening and expanding” PhilHealth’s coverage of TB cases.
While PhilHealth, Recto said, has commendably included TB treatment in its “All Case Rates” payment scheme with rates ranging from P4,000 to P15,600, “there is the question of the small segment of the population without PhilHealth insurance.”
To close this gap, Recto, in his Senate Bill 711, is calling for mandatory PhilHealth coverage of all TB patients, whether member or not.
“If we are nearing universal health insurance coverage, then PhilHealth should not worry, because this will only affect a small portion of the populace,” he said.
“Besides, in the first half of 2014, of the almost half-million TB patients, Philhealth was able to pay 11,804 claims for TB DOTS, at an average P2,072 per claim. Hindi pa nga number of patients ‘yan, kasi one patient can have multiple claims, so hindi ito mabigat sa kanila,” Recto said.
“As to the premiums required, the government can defray part of it by increasing its subsidy to the national health insurer, through national budget allocations,” he said.
Recto said boosting the TB control fund is something the government can afford.
“There is money but we don’t spend it. Last year, we underspent by P302.7 billion. Programmed expenditure was P2,284.3 billion while actual disbursement was P1,981.6 billion,” he said.
“Kahit 1 percent lang ng underspending natin ay ilagay natin sa TB control, or P3 billion, malaking tulong talaga,” Recto said.
“Remember, the country is losing approximately P8 billion annually from sickness and deaths due to TB. So this spending has a big socio-economic ROI (return of investment),” he said.
“Lahat naman ng victories natin sa TB dahil sa dagdag na pondo. In 1981, yung smear positive TB cases were 6.6 per 1,000 persons. In 2007, 2 na lang per 1,000,” he said.