KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 27 — Experts are calling for more federal funds and fair insurance policies for cancer patients, saying early detection and appropriate treatment can cut cancer incidence and mortality.
University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) senior consultant breast surgeon Prof Dr Nur Aishah Mohd Taib, who is also vice president of Together Against Cancer Association Malaysia, urged the government to increase allocations for health as more investments are needed in the sector.
“We need more money put into health and we need to prioritise important things. If we cannot sort it out in the next five years, we need to have a 20-year plan. We cannot have a short-term plan, we will not get anywhere in the end. We need to increase that 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) from our taxes for health,” Dr Nur Aishah said at Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy’s “Improving Access To Cancer Treatment And Care” virtual conference recently.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, in his keynote address during the conference, called for health budgets to be viewed as investments, rather than expenditures, to cut rising mortality and incidence rates of chronic diseases, particularly cancer.
He said investments can be channelled into early detection and novel treatment to reduce the burden of cancer disease on the health care system that was exacerbated by Covid-19.
Citing the Ministry of Health’s National Cancer Registry Report 2012–2016 released last year, he said almost 70 per cent of all cancer cases were diagnosed late at Stages Three and Four, resulting in fewer options for treatment and poorer survival rates.
Previously, infectious disease expert Prof Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said the local health care system was unprepared to face the Delta outbreak that overwhelmed many hospitals in the Klang Valley in July and August as a result of years of chronic underinvestment.
Dr Adeeba said investments need to go into automation and digitisation of Malaysia’s health care system. Budget 2022 is scheduled to be announced by Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz in Parliament on October 29.
Meanwhile, NCD Alliance Malaysia member Harikrishnan Maniam, who is also a lymphoma cancer survivor, highlighted that although he has successfully beaten cancer, he is not eligible for life insurance.
“So, let’s say if a relapse happens, I might need to go to a person or a public pledge fund if I find it out at a too advanced stage. This is another element that we need to look at as well — how are we going to help survivors prolong their survivorship,” Harikrishnan said.
Lung Cancer Network Malaysia co-founder and president Dr Anand Sachithanandan said cancer patients should not be “penalised” by the system after recovery.
“Once you’re a cancer survivor, you’ve been through that difficult journey and then you’re penalised by the system, you can’t get health insurance — and that can’t be right,” Dr Anand said.
“The vast majority of people who do have insurance are grossly underinsured, so you know, there has to be more honesty in the system, including from insurance players to guide people to purchase more meaningful insurance coverage, so that you and your family are protected and you can avail of the treatments which are very costly.”
“That is the reality. So, I hope you know everyone’s got to work together in the system that unfortunately, finances drive a lot of.”