MANILA, Philippines — An academician wants the country’s hospitals to employ genetics counselors for the effective treatment and care of patients with rare diseases.
Carmencita Padilla, a member of the National Academy of Science and Technology (NAST) and a professor at the University of the Philippines (UP) Manila College of Medicine, said the move would address both the gaps in medical services given to such patients and the small number of geneticists in the Philippines.
According to Padilla, there are only nine geneticists in the country, seven of whom are in Luzon and one each in the Visayas and Mindanao.
Padilla, who spoke in a NAST forum in Manila last week, proposed that genetics counselors be included in the plantilla of secondary and tertiary hospitals nationwide to increase the number of geneticists in the country.
A geneticist is a biologist specializing in the science of genes, heredity, and variation of organisms, managing and diagnosing patients with hereditary conditions or congenital deformities.
“We don’t have enough geneticists and we don’t need a geneticist in every hospital. At least, a genetics counselor can take care of counseling the patient and his family. The counselor is not limited to genetic conditions alone,” Padilla said.
She pointed out that increasing the number of geneticists in the country could happen with the help of the Department of Health and the Department of Science and Technology, which could offer scholarships for this particular field of science.
The academician said some rare diseases could be treated if timely proper care was given to patients.
In the same NAST forum, Mary Anne Chiong of UP Manila’s National Institute of Health explained that most of the 7,000 identified rare diseases are genetic and involve functional and physical birth defects.
The diseases are chronic, progressive, degenerative and often disabling. They also cause heavy social, emotional and financial burden on patients and their families.
The problem is compounded by challenges to treatment and research, including lack of access to treatment; frequent misdiagnosis; and lack of research, worsened by the small number of geneticists in the country, according to Chiong.
According to the World Health Organization, rare diseases, also called orphan disorders, affect between 6 and 10 out of 10,000 persons worldwide. In the Philippines, one in every 20,000 people has a rare disease.