pic by BLOOMBERG
THE Covid-19 pandemic is inarguably the main element that would shape many decisions in Budget 2021, but health experts are hopeful that it would not eclipse allocations for other non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
National Cancer Society Malaysia (NCSM) president and medical director Dr Saunthari Somasundaram said the Covid-19 pandemic has somehow proven that the country’s health services are currently thinly spread.
She said the current situation might force the capacity or resources from NCDs be diverted and allocated to communicable diseases.
“The budget for healthcare should be increased to ensure that we have a budget that could cover NCDs, especially when there’s a probability of an increase in patient numbers which cannot be satisfied by private facilities due to individual loss of income,” said Dr Saunthari.
She said any shortage of financial allocation would heavily harm patients who are suffering from chronic diseases as they are dependent on the provision of continuous care.
Dr Saunthari also said cancer treatment must be included in the budget, as it is a one-time treatment but a continuous journey for anyone diagnosed with it.
“I think that much can be improved in terms of cancer treatment and care, as seen in the latest National Health and Morbidity Survey.
“I do believe that cancer requires a more adequate budget and I hope to see this reflected in this upcoming tabling. With adequate funding across all points of cancer control from prevention, early detection, treatment and end of life care, more Malaysian lives could potentially be saved from this traumatic disease,” she said.
Dr Saunthari said the budget should not only be focused solely on operational cost, but also on the National Cancer Control Strategic Plan.
“There needs to be specific earmarked funding on services that make a long-term impact as seen in previous budgets,” said Dr Saunthari.
Her view was shared by Subang Jaya Medical Centre Consultant Breast Surgeon Datuk Dr Yip Cheng Har who also highlighted cardiovascular disease as the other health issue that needs to be addressed along with breast cancer.
“Of course, early detection of breast cancer is the most important, so they should spend money on early detection,” said Dr Yip.
She said across the whole country, about 30% to 40% of breast cancer patients are diagnosed with Stages 3 and 4.
“The Social Security Organisation (Socso) and the National Cancer Council actually give free mammograms to women. Socso gives away free vouchers, but you find that most of the vouchers will not be used because even if you give women free mammograms, they still don’t want to be tested because they are scared to find out what they have,” Dr Yip said.
She added that in Malaysia, one-third of those who have breast cancer are aged 40 to 49.
Dr Yip said the budget for follow-up treatments and rehabilitation would always require more support.
She said breast cancer survivors would also have difficulty in buying insurance or securing jobs, which are also issues that need the government’s attention.
Can-Care Ptd Ltd GM Joeanne Wong is also looking forward to a significant increase in allocations towards cancer care treatment along with more resources to combat Covid-19.
“When the vaccine is available, I foresee that there will be a need for the government to expedite public-private partnership to speed up the production and availability of vaccines to more people,” she said.
Wong said the government should also focus on building enough infrastructure, especially in the rural areas to fulfil at least the public’s basic needs.
“There is much more to be done in the area of NCD like cancer, where innovative drug access remains a huge challenge,” she added.