Kickstart national cancer fund with RM5m, MP tells Putrajaya

By Ida Lim
Klang MP Charles Santiago said that the government and TNB should be more proactive in conducting awareness programmes that could create a more energy-savvy Malaysia. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 — The federal government should spend RM5 million to start a national fund and subsidise cancer medication for low-income patients, DAP MP Charles Santiago said today.

Santiago said the federal government should also provide an annual allocation under its Budget to help cancer patients deal with expensive drugs.

"I think the government can do it, we have so much wastage in our Budget. I think the government can commit something to this cause," the Klang MP told reporters in Parliament here.

"I'm saying the government has the money, it has no political will to do it. The government has enough money, more than enough," he added.

Santiago said state governments should similarly provide annual allocations under their individual budgets to subsidise cancer medicine, noting that schemes such as the Selangor's Peduli Sihat medical card with annual healthcare coverage limited to RM500 and RM200 for families and unmarried individuals was popular but insufficient to pay for cancer treatment.

Santiago proposed the national fund be used to both subsidise cancer drugs for patients with monthly household income of below RM5,000 as well as to assist poor families with cancer patients to deal with living expenses.

Some cancer patients are single mothers or the families' breadwinners and their children sometimes have to stop schooling to care for them, he said.

"The cost of survival if you have cancer is very, very high," he said, noting that a bottle of 30 pills to be taken monthly by a colon cancer patient would cost RM8,700 and that some even have to choose between selling their homes or buying cancer drugs.

Santiago said around 10 to 12 cancer patients in his Klang constituency who were unable to pay for medication have approached him since last year, noting that even those who go to public hospitals are still unable to afford the medicine.

"Because government hospitals tell them, 'we don't have these medicines, you go to buy outside’," he said, adding that public hospitals may also require patients to visit each month to collect the medications instead of giving it in batches of three months.

He said Putrajaya could model this proposed national fund after the UK’s Cancer Drugs Fund project, which he noted had managed to drive down prices for 14 different types of cancer drugs as medicine manufacturers have brought down the prices when the public no longer buy from them at a premium rate.

"It's becoming a national epidemic which needs an effective response," he said of the rising number of Malaysians suffering from cancer.

Santiago cited the 2007 National Cancer Registry when saying that 21,733 new cancer cases are recorded annually and that around 10,000 cancer cases go unreported annually.

He also cited the Health Ministry's 2011 statistics that show one in nine women and one in ten men would suffer from cancer by the time they turn 75 and that at least 100,000 Malaysians are suffering from cancer at any given time.

"These numbers are predicted to increase by 54 per cent by 2025 going by the current pattern," he said.