MP SPEAKS | Today is World Cancer Day. And we are nowhere close to realising the goals of reducing premature deaths, improving quality of life and cancer survival rates.
Deputy Health Minister Lee Boon Chye recently said that we are having acute shortage of oncologists in Malaysia.
According to him, the estimated ratio is a startling 3.4 doctors for every one million people, when the ideal ratio would be eight to ten oncologists per a million.
There are only 115 oncologists in the country. Out of this, 42 are in government hospitals and the remaining 73 in the private sector.
But guess what, this is nothing new. A simple Google search would tell you it’s been the reality for the last couple of years.
If this isn’t a wake up call for us, I do not know what is. We need to figure out ways to increase the number of specialists as the lack of experts in the field would mean that either cancer patients have to travel long hours in order to have access to cancer care or they would not receive the standard of treatment they are entitled to.
The travelling costs may also act as a deterrence for them to seek treatment and hence totally abandoning medical care.
To give a rough figure, cancer medication and chemotherapy could easily range from RM 50,000 to RM 300,000.
A 2015 survey showed that nearly half of Malaysian cancer patients were financially broke just a year after diagnosis. According to George Institute for Global Health, 99% would use up their life savings, 39% could not afford to pay for their medication and 19% decided to discontinue their treatment.
Cancer medications are not subsidised by the government, forcing some of the patients to purchase those medication at premium rates in pharmacies.
In order to address this pressing matter on hand, the Health Ministry should set up a National Cancer Fund with an initial fund of RM10 million to aid those with a household income of RM5,000 and below.
The ministry could look at the UK Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) model for some guidance.
The government must also consider exercising “compulsory licensing” or “government use” provisions on trips in order to produce cancer drugs locally or to import generic cancer medication in the interest of public health.
This has been done by other developing countries such as India, Thailand and Colombia. For instance, the Indian government’s issuance of ‘compulsory licensing’ for a drug called Nexavar used for kidney and liver cancer, which was owned by German-drug company named Bayer, reduced the cost by 97 percent to US$ 176 for a month’s supply from US$ 5,600.
Therefore time to act is now. We have a responsibility to make cancer drugs affordable and increase survival rates.
The former Barisan Nasional-led government couldn’t care two hoots about giving cancer patients a fair chance.
Pakatan Harapan simply cannot afford to do the same.
CHARLES SANTIAGO is the MP for Klang.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.