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Media Release - Saturday, Delays in Access to Anti-Cancer Drugs Cost Lives

Delays in Access to Anti-Cancer Drugs Cost Lives

23rd May 2016
KUALA LUMPUR — An "important" number of life-years is being unnecessarily lost because of hurdles and delays in access to anti-cancer drugs for patients especially at the advanced stages in Ministry of Health (MoH) hospitals, according to Together Against Cancer Association of Malaysia (TAC). TAC was citing the findings of the latest research studies in Malaysia.
Up to 50% of deaths due to breast cancer were avoidable, according to lead author of the Healthcare Performance Measurement & Reporting System study, Dr. Lim Teck Onn who is also TAC Deputy Chairman. Lim, a consultant in Health Research & Biostatistics and Adjunct Associate Professor at International Medical University, said findings showed that of these deaths, 50% were due to late-stage presentation while another 50% were due to lack of access to optimum treatment.
The announcement followed the “Second Value Based Medicine Seminar”, an event jointly organized by the Pharmaceutical Services Division of the Ministry of Health, Malaysian Health Technology Assessment Section (MaHTAS), and Institut Kanser Negara, in collaboration with the National Cancer Society Malaysia. It was held in Institut Kanser Negara on 16-17th May 2016.
“Researchers are working tirelessly to better address cancer and contain the growing death rates due to the disease,” said TAC committee member and clinical oncologist, Dr. Mastura Md Yusof. Advanced treatments surfaced over the years have been specifically targeted to attack cancer cells that prevent further uncontrolled breast cell growth, while doing little damage to normal cells. “Known as targeted therapy, it has brought positive changes to advanced breast cancer treatment and has shown remarkable outcomes in patients,“ she explained. Dr Mastura added that it is important that cancer patients in Malaysia are given access to these treatments to ensure they are not deprived of the potential benefits such as increased chance for improved overall survival.
Concurring to this, Ranjit Kaur, TAC Chairman said: “New anticancer drugs can prolong survival. For some it is beyond 5 years and for others, it is 2 or 3 years, and despite appearing fairly modest to payers, it's extremely important to patients and their loved ones." She pointed out that “it takes an average of 5 years for a registered oncology product to be listed on the ministry’s formulary and no single life-extending treatment was made available since 2011. Unless a shift in mindset occurs—with those committed to national health investing more in cancer information, prevention, screening, and treatment—the number of unnecessary deaths will continue growing.”
Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy, TAC Secretary and one of the lead investigators of the ACTION (ASEAN Costs in Oncology) study emphasized that it is essential that value-based evaluations are undertaken to allow timely access to life-extending drugs. She said “financial catastrophe (FC), defined as out-of-pocket medical costs exceeding 30% of annual household income, was evident in almost 1 in 2 cancer patients 12 months after diagnosis. More than half (51%) of the families of cancer survivors in Malaysia were pushed into economic hardship, making it difficult to make necessary household payments.” She added, “Urgent measures are needed in Malaysia to address the adverse economic impact of cancer.”
TAC reiterates its call that cancer must be recognized and prioritized as a cross-governmental national issue affecting households, society and the economy, rather than being limited to health. These delays to access to cancer medicines take a very heavy toll on patients, their families and society in general. It is a moral duty to solve this issue urgently.
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