The statistics are most definitely a useful primer. And Health Minister, Dr. Dzulkefly Ahmad’s, recent data claiming cancer is the 4th most common cause of death in Malaysia has certainly created a buzz.
There are 101 new cases everyday. But what now?
The most crucial thing for the government to do is to set up a National Cancer Fund with an initial RM5 million to help those with a household income of RM 5, 000 and below.
The rising costs and an increase in the number of people affected by cancer mean the government must look into making drugs and treatment affordable and accessible to the poor.
Consider this for a rough estimate: cancer medication and chemotherapy could easily range from RM 50,000 to a whopping RM 300,000.
A 2015 survey showed that nearly half of the cancer patients were financially broke just a year after diagnosis.
According to George Institute for Global Health, 39% could not afford to pay for their medication and 19% decided to discontinue their treatment.
Besides the dollars and cents, the government must also look at an integrated plan, similar to the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Program (NCCCP) in the US, in establishing coalitions, assessing the burden of cancer, determining priorities, and developing and implementing comprehensive cancer control plans.
The comprehensive cancer control program can focus on encouraging mandatory screening to enable early detection, promoting healthy lifestyles, educating people about cancer symptoms, increasing access to quality cancer care and enhancing cancer survivors’ quality of life.
Furthermore, the newly-elected Pakatan Harapan government should 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 issued ‘compulsory licensing’ for a drug called Nexavar used for kidney and liver cancer, which was owned by German-drug company named Bayer. After issuance of compulsory licensing, the cost of Nexavar was reduced by 97 percent to US$ 176 for a month’s supply, from US$ 5, 600.
A good place for the government to make these commitments to support and alleviate the burden of the people is during next month’s budget speech.
And I certainly hope it would.