Bring down cost of cancer medicines, says MP

PETALING JAYA: Klang MP Charles Santiago has suggested that the government take control of the cost of cancer medicines at private hospitals, through negotiations with the private sector.

“The tablets (for treating cancer) are costly and the prices need to be brought down. The government and the private sector should negotiate a fair price for the private sector and the consumers. The UK and Australia have done this,” he told FMT.

Santiago’s comments come in response to remarks by Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad that the ministry is studying ways to reduce the cost of cancer treatment in private hospitals.

Santiago said that in 2011, one in every 10 men and one in every nine women in Malaysia were diagnosed with cancer. “These records are from 2011, now the situation could be worse.”

Total cost of some cancer treatments ranged from RM500,000 to RM750,000 depending on the medicine needed.

Santiago added that the nature of cancer is such where a patient may not be able to work after a certain period of time.

“And they give up as some of the pills are so expensive. Sometimes people do crowdfunding but still there is only so much that can be raised,” he said referring to a case where a woman with breast cancer had to take 80 pills with each pill costing her RM500.

He said those who go to high-end private hospitals are aware of the cost and have the ability to pay but a majority of Malaysians go to mid-range private hospitals to seek immediate treatment armed with only a limited amount of insurance money.

Santiago urged the Health Ministry to set up a central depository system in which every cancer case is immediately reported to the ministry, as is done with HIV positive cases.

“This way we will have the latest statistics instead of relying on old data,” he added.

A National Cancer Fund, open for public donations, should be set up in light of the rising number of cancer cases. He said the government and private sector can start the fund rolling.

Cancer is now the fourth most common cause of death in Malaysia. In a recent report, the health ministry said 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, with the figure expected to rise to 55,000 a year by 2030.