Some of Malta’s cancer patients are forced to resort to charities to access life-saving treatment because the state doesn’t cover certain crucial drugs on its formulary list of medicines.
Lara Said is a 52-year-old educator who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2018, a cancer that attacks the bone marrow and the immune system.
She is ineligible for stem cell therapy, so a critical medicine called Daratumumab is her last line of survival. In order to get funding, Said’s doctors need to reapply for funding every few months.
However, it is not on the government’s formulary medicines list, so patients like Said must rely on charities like the President’s foundation, the Malta Community Chest Fund as a sole life-line.
“The MCCF should not be the primary sole provider of such critical cancer care. Why is government shuffling its feet over cancer treatment?”
“I am not alone – there are many other cancer patients like myself who need to resort to the charity of others to have a chance for improved survival. Citizens should be funded by the government as is happening in more advanced countries in the EU,” Said stressed.
The Malta Community Chest Fund Foundation is a national charity that provides over €1 million a month in financial, material and professional support to people suffering from severe chronic illness, including cancer. It also provides food stamps, social assistance and help for those with disabilities, schemes that are usually undertaken by government entities.
Cancer patients like Said rely on treatment with high price tags. Daratumumab, just one of the drugs Said takes to fight the cancer costs around €8,000 a week while another Pomalidomide prices at €5,000 a month.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic hitting business, funding has hit the MCCF hard, bringing potentially fatal consequences for critically ill patients.
The national charity relies on annual events to raise funds throughout the year. But because of restrictions to curb COVID-19, it’s usual large-scale events like Rockestra and the President’s Fun Run were sacked. Meanwhile, businesses usually at the forefront of generous donations, could only contribute smaller amounts after feeling the pandemic’s pinch.
President George Vella warned of a rising number of patients in need of support, while the cost of cancer treatment has exploded. Many of those who have started medication in recent years are still alive as a result, meaning the number of beneficiaries is increasing every year.
Additionally, the fund’s expenditure on medicines has steadily increased over the years. In 2015, it spent under €1 million on treatment. That figure doubled by 2019 at €10 million and is expected to rise to €12 or €13 million this year.
“We need structural changes as to how patients receive care. We shouldn’t be treated as charity cases,” Said said.
In order to raise awareness about the issue, Said launched Lara Needs Dara, a page set-up to advocate to include a number of critical oncology and haematology drugs like Daratumumab on its essential medicines list. If she remains well, Said plans on walking from Sliema to Parliament for her campaign come December, dressed in pinky lavender or burgundy, the colour of blood disorders.
Lovin Malta has reached out to the Health Ministry to inquire about why such medicines are not provided by the state, but has not received an answer at the time of writing. Meanwhile, questions remain as to why charities are left to fill in the gaps of state care.
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