Geographic Distribution of Cancer Care Providers in the Philippines

In the Philippines, a lower middle-income country in Southeast Asia, 6 of 10 Filipinos die without seeing a doctor. To ensure universal access to cancer care, providers must be equitably distributed. Therefore, we evaluated the distribution of oncologists across all 17 regions in the Philippines.

We gathered data from the official websites of national medical societies on their members’ regional area of practice: Philippine Society of Medical Oncology, Philippine Radiation Oncology Society, Surgical Oncology Society of the Philippines, Society of Gynecologic Oncologists of the Philippines, and Philippine Society of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. We compared this with the regional census to determine the number of board-certified oncologists per 100,000 Filipinos.

For a population of almost 110 million, the Philippines has a total of 348 medical oncologists, 164 surgical oncologists, 99 radiation oncologists, 142 gynecologic oncologists, and 35 hospice and palliative medicine (HPM) specialists. This translates to 0.32 medical oncologists, 0.15 surgical oncologists, 0.09 radiation oncologists, 0.13 gynecologic oncologists, and 0.03 HPM specialists for every 100,000 Filipinos. The number of oncologists is highest in the National Capital Region in Luzon and lowest in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. All regions have at least one medical and gynecologic oncologist. Two regions (12%) have no surgical oncologists, five regions (29%) have no radiation oncologists, and eight regions (47%) have no HPM specialists.

Efforts are needed to increase the number of oncologists and improve equity in their distribution to ensure universal access to cancer care in the Philippines.

Successful Implementation of Expanded Newborn Screening in the Philippines Using Tandem Mass Spectrometry

Newborn bloodspot screening (NBS) began as a research project in the Philippines in 1996 and was mandated by law in 2004. The program initially included screening for five conditions, with a sixth added in 2012. As screening technology and medical knowledge have advanced, NBS programs in countries with developed economies have also expanded, not only in the number of newborns screened but also in the number of conditions included in the screening. Various approaches have been taken regarding selection of conditions to be screened. With limited resources, low- and middle-income countries face significant challenges in selecting conditions for screening and in implementing sustainable screening programs. Building on expansion experiences in the U.S. and data from California on Filipinos born and screened there, the Philippine NBS program has recently completed its expansion to include 29 screening conditions. This report focuses on those conditions detectable through tandem mass spectrometry. Expanded screening was implemented in a stepwise fashion across the seven newborn screening laboratories in the Philippines. A university-based biochemical genetics laboratory provides confirmatory testing. Follow-up care for confirmed cases is monitored and provided through the NBS continuity clinics across the archipelago. Pre-COVID-19 pandemic, the coverage was 91.6% but dropped to 80.4% by the end of 2020 due to closure of borders between cities, provinces, and islands.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Hospital Admissions for Twelve High-Burden Diseases and Five Common Procedures in the Philippines: A National Health Insurance Database Study 2019-2020

The Philippines has the highest cumulative COVID-19 cases and deaths in the Western-Pacific. To explore the broader health impacts of the pandemic, we assessed the magnitude and duration of changes in hospital admissions for 12 high-burden diseases and the utilization of five common procedures by lockdown stringency, hospital level, and equity in patient access.

Our analysis used Philippine social health insurance data filed by 1,295 hospitals in 2019 and 2020. We calculated three descriptive statistics of percent change comparing 2020 to the same periods in 2019: (1) year-on-year, (2) same-month-prior-year, and (3) lockdown periods.

Disease admissions declined (-54%) while procedures increased (13%) in 2020 versus 2019. The increase in procedures was caused by hemodialysis surpassing its 2019 utilization levels in 2020 by 25%, overshadowing declines for C-section (-5%) and vaginal delivery (-18%). Comparing months in 2020 to the same months in 2019, the declines in admissions and procedures occurred at pandemic onset (March-April 2020), with some recovery starting May, but were generally not reversed by the end of 2020. Non-urgent procedures and respiratory diseases faced the largest declines in April 2020 versus April 2019 (range: -60% to -70%), followed by diseases requiring regular follow-up (-50% to -56%), then urgent conditions (-4% to -40%). During the strictest (April-May 2020) and relaxed (May-December 2020) lockdown periods compared to the same periods in 2019, the declines among the poorest (-21%, -39%) were three-times greater than in direct contributors (-7%, -12%) and two-times more in the south (-16%, -32%) than the richer north (-8%, -10%). Year-on-year admission declines across the 12 diseases and procedures (except for hemodialysis) was highest for level three hospitals. Compared to public hospitals, private hospitals had smaller year-on-year declines for procedures, because of increases in utilization in lower level private hospitals.

COVID-19’s prolonged impact on the utilization of hospital services in the Philippines suggests a looming public health crisis in countries with frail health systems. Through the periodic waves of COVID-19 and lockdowns, policymakers must employ a whole-of-health strategy considering all conditions, service delivery networks, and access for the most vulnerable.

Global Surgery indicators and pediatric hydrocephalus: a multicenter cross-country comparative study building the case for health systems strengthening

Purpose: The aim of this study is to compare specific three-institution, cross-country data that are relevant to the Global Surgery indicators and the functioning of health systems.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed clinical and socioeconomic characteristics of pediatric patients who underwent CSF diversion surgery for hydrocephalus in three different centers: University of Tsukuba Hospital in Ibaraki, Japan (HIC), Jose R. Reyes Memorial Medical Center in Manila, Philippines (LMIC), and the Federal Neurosurgical Center in Novosibirsk, Russia (UMIC). The outcomes of interest were timing of CSF diversion surgery and mortality. Statistical tests included descriptive statistics, Cox proportional hazards model, and logistic regression. Nation-level data were also obtained to provide the relevant socioeconomic contexts in discussing the results.

Results: In total, 159 children were included—13 from Japan, 99 from the Philippines, and 47 from the Russian Federation. The median time to surgery at the specific neurosurgical centers were 6 days in the Philippines and 1 day in both Japan and Russia. For the cohort from the Philippines, non-poor patients were more likely to receive CSF diversion surgery at an earlier time (HR=4.74, 95%CI 2.34–9.61, p<0.001). In the same center, those with infantile or post-hemorrhagic hydrocephalus (HR=3.72, 95%CI 1.70–8.15, p=0.001) were more likely to receive CSF diversion earlier compared to those with congenital hydrocephalus, and those with post-infectious (HR=0.39, 95%CI 0.22–0.70, p=0.002) or myelomeningocele-associated hydrocephalus (HR=0.46, 95%CI 0.22–0.95, p=0.037) were less likely to undergo surgery at an earlier time. For Russia, older patients were more likely to receive or require early CSF diversion (HR=1.07, 95%CI 1.01–1.14, p=0.035). EVD insertion was found to be associated with mortality (cOR 14.45, 95% CI 1.28–162.97, p = 0.031).

Conclusion: In this study, Filipino children underwent late time-interval of CSF diversion surgery and had mortality differences compared to their Japanese and Russian counterparts. These disparities may reflect on the functioning of the respective country’s health systems.

Predictors of poor outcome from aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage and an exploratory analysis into the causes of delayed neurosurgical clipping at a major public hospital in the Philippines

The provision of neurosurgical care for patients with aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) is beset with particular challenges in low- to middle-income countries (LMICs) like the Philippines. In this study located in a low-resource setting, we identify the factors that contribute to unfavorable outcomes of dependency and death.
The authors retrospectively reviewed 106 patients who underwent surgery for aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage in a single institution from January 2016 to September 2018. Data were obtained on exposure variables comprising patient demographics, clinical features, perioperative management, and complications and other interventions; while outcomes on discharge were investigated using the modified Rankin scale (mRS). Descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic regression analyses were done. Root cause analysis was done to identify the causes of delay.
The percentage of patients who had unfavorable outcome (mRS ≥ 3) was 29.2%. The timing of surgery—whether early (10 days)—was not found to be significantly associated with dependency or mortality. On multiple logistic regression, the factors associated with unfavorable outcome were: intraoperative rupture (OR 23.98, 95%CI 3.56–161.33, p=0.001), vasospasm (OR 12.47, 95%CI 3.01–51.57, p<0.001), and a high Hunt & Hess grade (OR 5.96, 95%CI 1.47–24.18, p=0.012). Intraoperative rupture and vasospasm were further found to be independent predictors of mortality. Many causes of delay were identified in terms of patient-, provider-, and health system-levels. These constitute as barriers to timely care and also contribute to the gap in quality and efficiency of neurosurgical treatment situated in low-resource settings in LMICs.
The identified predictors of poor outcomes, as well as the causes delays in neurosurgical treatment, pose as significant challenges to the care of socioeconomically-disadvantaged SAH patients. When considering the solutions to these challenges, the broader environment of practice ought to be taken into account.

COVID-19’s Impact on Neurosurgical Training in Southeast Asia

Objective: Neurosurgery departments worldwide have been forced to restructure their training programs due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. In this study, we describe the impact of COVID-19 on neurosurgical training in Southeast Asia.

Methods: We conducted an online survey among neurosurgery residents in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand from 22 to 31 May 2020 using Google Forms. The 33-item questionnaire collected data on elective and emergency neurosurgical operations, ongoing learning activities, and health worker safety.

Results: A total of 298 out of 470 neurosurgery residents completed the survey, equivalent to a 63% response rate. The decrease in elective neurosurgical operations in Indonesia and in the Philippines (median=100% for both) was significantly greater compared with other countries (p <.001). For emergency operations, trainees in Indonesia and Malaysia had a significantly greater reduction in their caseload (median=80% and 70%, respectively) compared with trainees in Singapore and Thailand (median=20% and 50%, respectively, p <.001). Neurosurgery residents were most concerned about the decrease in their hands-on surgical experience, uncertainty in their career advancement, and occupational safety in the workplace. Most of the residents (221, 74%) believed that the COVID-19 crisis will have a negative impact on their neurosurgical training overall.

Conclusions: An effective national strategy to control COVID-19 is crucial to sustain neurosurgical training and to provide essential neurosurgical services. Training programs in Southeast Asia should consider developing online learning modules and setting up simulation laboratories, to allow trainees to systematically acquire knowledge and develop practical skills during these challenging times.