War on Cancer

Cancer is South-East Asia’s biggest killer, and places a heavy burden on the governments and the population in the region. By 2030, cancer incidence rates in Asia are expected to increase by over 40% compared to 2012 figures.
The War on Cancer South-East Asia 2018, was organized by The Economist to uncover innovative ways to fund cancer care—from prevention to palliative care—in the region’s low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). Many distinguished speakers participated in this high-level event including the Minister of Health, Indonesia, as well as key policy-makers, head of cancer services, prolific academics, CEOs of non-governmental organizations, pharmaceutical industries and insurance companies from around the world.
Through in-depth discussions, interviews and country-specific presentations, financing mechanisms and models to pay for cancer-control plans, improving access and outcomes for patients in the process were evaluated. Strategies to engage private-sector insurers and investors to help fund transparent, standardised, and market-based cancer-care pathways were also explored.

Associate Prof Dr Nirmala Bhoo Pathy, a cancer epidemiologist from the Departmet of Social Preventive Medicine, was also an invited panelist in this exciting Economist Event. She spoke in the session titled Optimizing and Prioritizing Spend. For LMICs to improve equitable access to cancer care, they must first address the acute shortage of funding. Determining how to optimise budgets by investing in the right priority-areas will be key to stretching limited funds. Two main questions were addressed in this session namely

  1. How should governments determine what levels of spending are required for prevention, palliation, treatment, data registries, epidemiological infrastructure and others?
  2. What tools can they use to help in decision-making?

Dr Bhoo Pathy pointed out that what we have learned so far is that a lot of cancer control efforts in the region have been focussed on providing treatment, which is great. She further stressed that on the other hand, very little resources have been set aside for early detection and diagnosis and provision of supportive care for cancer patients. The ASEAN Costs in Oncology (ACTION) Study provides compelling evidence that apart from rethinking our health care financing mechanisms, countries in Southeast Asia should also prioritise early detection of cancers as late stage at diagnosis largely explained the mortality and risk of adverse economic outcomes following cancer diagnosis in the region. ACTION study also showed that the health-related quality of life of cancer patients in the eight participating countries was substantially impaired with many patients continuing to suffer from anxiety and depression at one year following diagnosis. This finding underscores the need to provide cancer survivors with supportive care addressing wider aspects of well-being. These efforts essentially require multisectoral collaboration with stakeholders and partners outside the Ministry of Health in LMICs.

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