CNMI Congress to appropriate USD900k for cancer prevention programs in the Marianas

By Lori Lyn Lirio

Cancer cells © Flickr/ Penn State

THE Commonwealth of Northern Marianas Islands House of Representatives will take action on Tuesday concerning House Bill 20-29 which appropriates over UDS900,000 in funds to support and expand cancer awareness, detection and prevention programs in the Marianas Islands.

CNMI District II Representative Angel Demapan (Rep.), who was at the proclamation signing of Oral Cancer Awareness Month on Wednesday, disclosed that the House of Representatives had already passed the bill for the USD931,000 funding of anti-cancer programs and it already went to the Senate, which made some amendments.

“It is now back to the House. We have to make a decision whether to accept it or reject it on Tuesday.”

Demapan said based on his conversation with the members, they will support and accept the Senate amendment and move it up to the CNMI governor.

Demapan said of the USD931,000, a total of USD150,000 will go to Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation’s (CHC) public dental program. On the other hand, USD350,000 will go to Commonwealth Cancer Association (CCA) for operations and services on Saipan, Tinian and Rota.

“The remainder of 931k will go to other various programs – medical referral for the treatment and transportation of cancer patients to off island, stipend for patients and family,” he said.

Demapan said the Legislature appropriates funding annually “to meet the goals and objectives of all the organizations that have cancer-related programs.”

In an interview, CCA board president Bo Palacios thanked the Legislature for working on the funding that is going to be committed to the cancer association. He said they are using the funds to support and serve their clients.

“Cancer is something that you fight for years, so we spend years supporting patients that are fighting cancer,” he said.

Palacios clarified that the cancer association does not offer assistance for actual treatment.

“We provide vouchers for fruits and vegetables, vouchers for different types of cancer support items – wheelchair, rental bed, and other needs,” he said.

With the funding, the cancer association is planning to do more research on why there was a high increase of cancer patient.

Palacios said there is a 65 percent increase of cancer patients they serve.

In 2016, the CCA served 97 cancer patients but this figure jumped to 161 in 2017.

“We are at the critical juncture. We are almost at the crisis level of cancer. I mentioned that 161 – all types of cancer – incidence that we know of from CCA. There is potentially more,” he said, adding that 40 of them are oral cancer.

CCA Executive Director Juan Babauta clarified that the number of patients they served in the CCA does not reflect the actual number of cancer patients in the CNMI.

“We don’t keep the cancer registry. We only have people coming and we give them services. We have served 97 cancer patients, and 2017 we served 161,” Babauta said.

The Oral Cancer Awareness Month will start on May, but Palacios said the CCA had already started implementing the awareness program by going to from school to school since April.

“We want to create awareness and start with young people to instill the values in the younger audience. They learn at early age that these habits that they have or any of their family members are detrimental to their health,” he said.

The CCA, Palacios added, is relying on the younger audience to influence their parents and other members of the family in regards to cancer awareness.

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