Set up National Cancer Fund, urges Charles Santiago

KUALA LUMPUR: Member of Parliament for Klang Charles Santiago has proposed the setting up of a National Cancer Fund in view of the rising number of cancer cases.

Commenting on Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad’s revelation that cancer was the 4th most common cause of death in Malaysia, Charles suggested that the government provide seed funding of RM5 million for this fund to help those with a household income of RM5,000 and below.

Charles Santiago.

He said in a statement today: “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 RM50,000 to a whopping RM300,000. A 2015 survey showed that nearly half of the cancer patients were financially broke just a year after diagnosis. According to the 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, he said, the government must also look at an integrated plan, similar to the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Programme 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 programme 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.”

Santiago said the Pakatan Harapan government should also consider exercising “compulsory licensing” or “government use” provisions in trade-related intellectual property rights or TRIPS, in order to produce cancer drugs locally or to import generic cancer medication in the interest of public health.

This, the DAP leader noted, had been done by 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 Bayer. After issuance of compulsory licensing, the cost of Nexavar was reduced by 97% 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.”

The health ministry had said in a report called “Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival” that cancer was responsible for 12.6% of all deaths in government hospitals and 26.7% of all deaths in private hospitals.

The report said there were about 37,000 newly-diagnosed cases of cancer every year and that by 2030, the figure was estimated to reach 55,000.