Cancer meds denied

5,000 registered cancer patients at five major Punjab teaching hospitals are unable to secure medication

Editorial March 10, 2019

Red tape in the country does not spare anyone, not even cancer patients. It cares not that these individuals suffering from cancer further come from impoverished backgrounds.

Five thousand registered cancer patients at five major Punjab teaching hospitals are unable to secure medication despite being critical cancer patients. The onus falls on the health department which has halted a Rs400 million payment to a major Swiss drug company awaiting review by a third party.

Meanwhile, extremely necessary cancer drugs that are unavailable through any other source in the country lie in store moving closer to their expiration dates over government inaction.

Patient advocacy is immediately needed. Whether it is oncologists treating the cancer patients, other hospital staff, or patient families, the silent sufferers need help. The matter has been pending since October 2018. A span of five months is a lengthy amount of time in the life of a cancer patient.

Another shameful aspect of this is that the health department is fussing over 9% of the outstanding payment, as 91% of procurement costs were picked up by the company itself as per a 2014 memorandum of understanding between the then government and the Swiss company.

While the current government has released the funds to be paid to the pharmaceutical company, the health department refuses to pass the payment forward to Switzerland. The demand for an audit is plausible; however, the delay, especially as it pertains to patients suffering from cancer, is unjustified.

The health department needs to expedite the audit on a priority basis and revise the 2014 MoU if necessary through immediate communication. Government healthcare is being judged here. The state-run hospitals in which these patients are registered will have their reputations affected if timely delivery of drugs is not provided. This can impact future grants, regardless of their source, and government-run entities cannot afford that.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 10th, 2019.

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