KUALA LUMPUR: Klang MP Charles Santiago has urged the government to set up a National Cancer Fund to alleviate the catastrophic cost of cancer treatment.
Citing Health Minister Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad's recent data, he said that cancer is the fourth most common cause of death in Malaysia, with 101 new cases detected everyday.
As if that was not grim enough, he said cancer medication and chemotherapy could easily range from RM50,000 to a whopping RM300,000
"The most crucial thing for the government to do is to set up a National Cancer Fund with an initial RM5mil to help those with a household income of RM5,000 and below," he said in a statement on Thursday (Oct 11).
Santiago said the government must look into making drugs and treatment affordable and accessible to the poor in view of rising costs and an increasing number of people affected by cancer.
A 2015 survey showed that nearly half of the cancer patients were financially drained within a year after diagnosis, he said.
According to the George Institute for Global Health, 39% could not afford medication and 19% decided to discontinue their treatment, he said.
Besides the costs, Santiago said the government should look at an integrated plan similar to the National Comprehensive Cancer Control Programme in the United States and establish coalitions, assess cancer burden, determine priorities, and develop and implement 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," he said.
The newly-elected Pakatan Harapan government should also consider exercising "compulsory licensing" or "government use" provisions in the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, in order to produce cancer drugs locally or to import generic cancer medication in the interest of public health, he said.
"This has been done by other developing countries such as India, Thailand and Colombia.
"For instance, the Indian government issued 'compulsory licensing' for a sorafenib drug used for kidney and liver cancer, which was owned by a German-drug company.
"After issuance of compulsory licensing, the cost of Nexavar was reduced by 97% to US$176 (RM732) for a month's supply, from US$5,600 (RM23,293)," he said.
He said he hoped the government would make these commitments in next month's budget speech.