Coming soon: More affordable transplants in Philippines

Cecille Suerte Felipe - The Philippine Star
Coming soon:  More affordable transplants in Philippines
President Duterte has welcomed the recommendation of Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go to capacitate the NKTI so that Filipinos with end-stage renal diseases need not go abroad to avail themselves of organ transplants.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo, File

MANILA, Philippines — It takes better equipment and more local specialists to enable the National Kidney and Transplant Institute (NKTI) to perform liver and kidney transplants at a cheaper cost and thus save more lives.

President Duterte has welcomed the recommendation of Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go to capacitate the NKTI so that Filipinos with end-stage renal diseases need not go abroad to avail themselves of organ transplants.

The NKTI’s Department of Organ Transplantation, established in 1983, has pioneered kidney, liver, kidney-pancreas transplantation in the country.

However, a liver transplant in the Philippines, for example, is at least three times more expensive than the P1.2 million needed for the same procedure in India.

This issue came to the fore last Jan. 15 when Duterte met Ronald Naval and Kendy Aguilo, parents of a child with biliary atresia.

He encouraged them to have their daughter Sophie undergo liver transplant in the country instead of in India, which they preferred because of the cheaper cost.

“Let’s try it here. I believe (the operation can be done here). I’m not for scrimping – I have money and I will help,” the President told the couple in Filipino.

Duterte and Go also prefer the procedure to be done in the Philippines so that the patient can receive better pre-operative and post-operative care, as well as easier access to financial assistance from relevant government agencies.

Go cited the unfortunate case of Eren Arabella Crisologo, daughter of a Philippine Army soldier from Butuan City. The President and the senator first met the baby, who had biliary atresia, when they visited the wounded-in-action soldiers at a hospital in Cagayan de Oro City in March 2019.

They sent 11-month-old Eren and her parents to India in June 2019, but the operation did not succeed.

“Unfortunately, baby Eren developed complications so she did not survive the operation,” Go said at the meeting with key government officials and private health care professionals in August last year.

The meeting aimed to address the growing cases of biliary atresia in the country and the high cost of locally performing a liver transplant.

It was learned that the cost of the operation will significantly go down once NKTI has a sufficient number of specialists and the necessary equipment and facilities.


The consultation with health officials and practitioners allowed Go to come up with short-term and long-term solutions to the problem and presented them to the President.

The short-term solution is forming a consortium among the Office of the President (OP), the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) and The Medical City (TMC), a private hospital.

The long-term solution involves acquiring equipment for and developing the facilities of NKTI and sending its specialist staff to Kaohsiung Chang-Gung Memorial Hospital (KCGMH) in Taiwan for training.

Under the consortium, the estimated budget for each beneficiary is P3.6 million, P2.9 million of which will be spent on the operation at TMC and the rest will be for pre-operation and post-operation care at the PCMC.

Considered to be the most feasible immediate solution to the problem, the consortium takes advantage of an existing partnership between the PCMC and TMC and will last until NKTI is capable of solely performing pediatric and adult living donor liver transplantation.

The government will spend P58.1 million for the equipment that NKTI needs and P1.3 million for a batch of 12 specialists who will be trained for one to two months in Taiwan. Each specialist will have to serve at NKTI for two years in exchange for the training.

The long-term solution, expected to raise the standards of health care and elevate the morale of Filipino medical practitioners, also takes advantage of an established relationship between NKTI and KCGMH.

“We want patients to trust in the ability of our doctors. We want to tell them that they don’t need to go abroad for a liver transplant,” Go said in Filipino. “That’s our objective. Hopefully and as soon as possible we could be at par with other countries (in this respect).”

Fund assistance

Based on Go’s suggestions, the PCMC will work out a possible assistance arrangement with the DOH through the agency’s Medical Assistance for Indigent Patients (MAIP) Program. The Presidential Management Staff (PMS) will also map out other sources of assistance and arrange a meeting with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) and private partners.

Go also said that the patients can avail themselves of the services of Malasakit Centers, one-stop shops that streamline medical and financial assistance from PhilHealth, DOH, DSWD and PCSO.

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