Patients battling cancer in the country continue to spend more money on treatment as they await the much touted National Cancer Centre to be constructed in Lilongwe.
A patient close to our investigation revealed that for every three months, he has to spend about K145, 000 for 10.8 mg injection of Zoladex La goserelin. He further said for an injection of Zoledric Acid, at least K50, 000 has to be produced in every three months.
“I also have to undergo PSA tests every three months at a cost of MK 28,000. But that does not stop there, because I also undergo full blood count, Urea and calcium that cost me K10, 000 every month. At the end of the day, it is evident that cancer is a very money draining disease. Personally, I would want government to speed up construction of the cancer centre in Lilongwe to ease our challenges,” he said.
Cancer Association of Malawi Chairperson, Regina Njirima, also highlighted that aside from being a money draining disease, it is involving too.
She added that cancer prescription has a set number of medicines and in most cases, a public hospital would have only one type of medication, forcing the patient to buy the rest at private hospitals.
“The struggle is real because it is rare that a patient would find a complete set of a cancer prescription. So, one is forced to
buy. Some of the patients are very needy that they cannot even afford transport from their homes to the hospital. We [Cancer Association of Malawi] have tried to pay for some patients but eventually, our resources have been drained,” she said.
Njirima said in recent months, the association has paid costs for seven patients who needed Leukemia test at a fee of K275, 000 each, including transport.
“Our dream is to have cancer centres across the country, at least one in every region. You might also be aware that most tests are done by private hospitals or abroad which is costly,” she said.
The only available services for treating cancer in Malawi are surgery and chemotherapy. However, the Ministry of Health periodically sends cancer patients requiring radiotherapy treatment abroad.
On average, cost for radiotherapy treatment for one patient outside the country is $30,000 (about K22.5 million).
Statistics from the Ministry of Health indicate that on average, Malawi sends 40 cancer patients abroad and spends over $1 Million annually. Currently, about 63 patients are on waiting list to be sent abroad for cancer treatment.
According to Ministry of Health spokesperson, Joshua Malango, construction of the National Cancer Centre in Lilongwe is on the right track and is expected to be completed in September this year.
“From the human resource perspective, the ministry in readiness of the opening of the centre has trained and is still in the process of training different cadres for the centre,” he said.
Malawi Equity Justice Network’s (Mejn) Executive Director, George Jobe, said what is needed first is to control the disease.
He said primary health care system should be revamped in a bid to control the disease at early stage.
“We need to reflect on how we can prevent the disease. There is need for more sensitisation campaigns. People should be able to know the signs and symptoms of cancer at early stage and also know how to prevent the disease,” he said.
He further said the cancer Centre in Lilongwe is just a building which will need more resources to perfectly operate.
“What we need in the hospitals are drugs. The country is using a lot of money constructing the centre and if there will be no drugs in the facility that will be a total waste of government resources,” Jobe said.
Currently, there are two oncology departments, one at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre and another one at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe offering chemotherapy, surgery and palliative care.
Oncologist Leo Masamba, while conceding that cancer patients are struggling in the country, said medical cover is key for any human being.
He advises government to fast track the national medical insurance to cover the needy.
“What I would advise government on is to fast track medical insurance to cover the needy population in times like these,” Masamba remarked.
He also said the National Cancer Centre may not solve all the drug problems unless a significant budget is provided.
“The budget should also be independent from the existing hospitals that are already struggling. Most importantly, is to allow the centre have its own additional resources,” he said.
Cancer remains a public health concern in Malawi. According to the Health Ministry, new cancer cases can be estimated to be over 15000.
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