The high cost of cancer drugs

posted November 15, 2019 at 12:50 am
by  Alejandro Del Rosario
"For many Filipinos, a cancer diagnosis is in itself a death sentence."


With the high cost of anti-cancer drugs, there are a few patients who just opt to wait out the short time they have left. This is the sad state of Filipinos who have fallen victim to the Big C.

While there have been advances in medicine that doctors can now dispense to treat this once-incurable and dreaded disease, the prohibitive price of cancer drugs can make patients even sicker just by thinking of how and where to source the funds.

Cancer, according to the Department of Health, is the second-leading cause of death among Filipinos after cardiac arrest. Both diseases are preventable if people avoid smoking and eating fatty foods.

Three Manila Standard top editors succumbed to cancer and I have other friends who were also cancer victims. The most common among women is breast cancer which doctors claim can be hereditary. But it is the easiest to arrest with mastectomy or breast removal. The most famous of these victims is Hollywood film star Angelina Jolie who survived by having both breasts removed.

In 2017 alone, 64,125 Filipinos lost their lives to cancer. The high number of deaths, according to government data, can be traced to the fact that only rich members of Filipino society have access to the pricey anti-cancer drugs.

The annual treatment cost of the most common breast cancer ranges from P2.8 million to P 4.1 million. These are for medications such as Lapatinib, Bevacizumab. Eribulin, Pertuzumab and Trastuzumab.

The more expensive breast cancer drug, Doxorubicin, has an annual treatment cost of P5.2 million

Lung cancer treatment using Bevacizumab. Pembrolizumab and Cetuximab costs a staggering P3 million to P4.1 million annually.

Poor and middle-class Filipinos cannot afford these medicines. It would take a minimum wage laborer almost 20 years to pay for a year's worth of breast cancer treatment using Lapatnib for his wife or daughter.

With the atrocious cost of cancer medicine. a diagnosis of the disease in a person is a death sentence, considering the outrageous cost of treatment.

The Maximum Drug Retail Price as proposed by the Department of Health under Secretary Francisco T. Duque has been submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for price control under Republic Act 9502. The list submitted by Duque includes seven of the 10 most expensive cancer drugs.

The pharmaceutical companies of course are not happy with Duque's initiative as it would cut down their huge profits. The expected price reduction would entail 20 percent in most drugs—in some, as much as 50 percent.

The drug companies proposed to slash prices on their own but Duque shot it down, knowing the reductions would be minimal and still beyond the reach of the poor cancer patient. It is to Duque's credit that he has the guts to fight big business whose only concern is profit and more profit to remit to the mother company based abroad.

Underprivileged Filipinos have found a savior in Duque who with his price reduction move would be giving cancer patients a longer lease on life. But then, will the pharma companies reduce their profit margin and show some concern for cancer patients?

Topics: Alejandro del Rosario , cancer drugs , Department of Health ,
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