Financial concerns deter cancer patients from seeking treatment

Screengrab shows SGH consultant hematologist Dr Chew (top right) speaking at the Scan virtual music video launch.

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By Nancy Nais

KUCHING, Feb 3: Many cancer patients chose not to seek further medical treatment due to financial reasons and this is particularly common in Sarawak.

Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) consultant hematologist Dr Chew Li Ping said due to this, many of her patients did not turn up for appointments or to receive treatment.

“The most prevalent barriers among my patients when it comes to treatment are loss of income experienced by the patients themselves or their caretaker due to economic reasons.

“Although things have improved in Sarawak as compared to 10 years ago where patients can now receive a lot of supportive cancer care at the nearest clinic, they need economic support to regularly visit the nearest hospital for their chemotherapy or other treatments,” Dr Chew said at the Society for Cancer Advocacy and Awareness Kuching (Scan) virtual music video launch for World Cancer Day 2022 with the theme ‘Close the Gap’.

The music video titled “Many Tomorrows” was produced by singer-songwriter and sape musician Alena Murang.

Screengrab of the ‘Many Tomorrows’ music video produced by Alena Murang which was launched in conjunction with World Cancer Day 2022.

Dr Chew also revealed that many of her elderly patients felt compelled to pass on rather than receive treatment as they did not want to place a greater economic burden on their children.

She also pointed out that the lack of road access in the deep interiors of the State such as in Marudi and Lawas; and transportation difficulties are among the main causes related to patients in rural areas not attending their treatment sessions.

“Even if transport is available (by land or air), it is very expensive for the patients. At times, it may cost one month’s salary just to go to the nearest hospital for treatment,” Dr Chew highlighted.

As cancer care is costly, she expressed hope that one day, Malaysia will get access to more generic drugs as these are cheaper and they will benefit cancer patients who need treatment.

“I also hope that Malaysia will get included in many more international clinical trials for cancer drugs so that relapsed patients (despite treatments) can get early access to state-of-art medicine for better outcomes, to close the gap,” Dr Chew said.

Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii who attended the virtual launch expressed his strong belief that at the country’s policy level, especially federal government, what is needed is to create a cancer fund under the 12th Malaysia Plan.

This, he said, is important to provide access to healthcare as well as treatment and medication particularly for the lower income group and B40.

“Even an initial injection, say about RM50 million, can be used to help these people who are also badly affected from the Covid-19 pandemic due to loss of job and income or salary being decreased.

“We have seen how cancer has made families struggle to make ends meet for treatment and this should not be happening. Everyone deserves a chance for treatment, it should not be reserved just for the rich or privileged,” Dr Yii said.

On a State-level, he assured, they have been pushing for more cancer treatment centres and adequate numbers of specialists.

Dr Yii noted that federal policy for cancer centres does not work in the context of Sarawak due to the latter’s demographics and large land size.

Meanwhile, Scan president Sew Boon Lui in her opening remarks said as a member of the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) and with the aim to be the voice for patients, Scan collaborated with Alena, following the idea of using music to reflect the voices of people who faced many barriers when it comes to proper cancer care.

“This follows the notion that hope and conjoined voices will help fill the gaps in cancer care and treatments. We believe it takes everyone to realise our aim to ‘Close the Care Gap’ for better outcomes and create ‘Many Tomorrows’. We hope that this song will encourage all to join us in closing the gap,” Sew said. — DayakDaily