Following many media reports, as a result of the astronomical high cost of cancer medicines around the world, about 120 cancer doctors from 15 countries have written a commentary in a medical journal…”Blood” (the journal of the American Society of Hematology), in which they call for drug makers to lower their prices. The move seems to be a climax or boiling point over continues concern over the rising price and cost of cancer medications around the world.
African countries and other third world countries are especially hit by such skyrocketing prices for any medication talk less of cancer treatment medications. According to media reports, in treating Cancer in just one year, some Cancer drugs cost between $100,000 to $138,000 or even more. Since many patients from poor countries, like in Africa cannot even afford basic needs, it becomes automatic that many of these patients eventually are forced to forgo treatment. The consequences of that practice are obvious.
In United States for example, as reported by the media, out of the 12 new cancer drugs that were approved by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 2012, 11 of them cost in excess of $100,000 a year. Specialist Doctors have attacked that as being “astronomical,” “unsustainable,” and maybe even immoral. What’s more bizarre according to the Washington Post is that, out the 12 FDA approved drugs, only three drugs were found to improve patient survival rates and of these, two only increased it by less than two months.
The doctors wrote in the Journal of the American Society of Hematology that…”Advocating for lower drug prices is a necessity to save the lives of patients who cannot afford them. One of such popular medications used for the treatment of blood cancer called ‘Gleevec is marketed by the drug company Novartis.
According to The New York Times, the cancer drug Gleevac, generated $4.7 billion in sales last year, making it the bestselling drug for its manufacturer, Novartis. Another Novartis leukemia drug, Tasigna, had sales of $1 billion.
In their commentary, some doctors have pointed out that the practice of drug companies is no more about making essential profits but “profiteering”.
According to the specialists… “Medical illness and drug prices are the single most frequent cause of personal bankruptcy” in the United States since patients have to spend between $20,000 to $30,000 simply to stay alive. Of course that makes a lot of sense.
In a large number of African countries where poverty is rife, people just die. In the logic of things, you have to have something first to be bankrupt by an event or action. Many poor Africans sick of cancer just cannot afford the basics (food and drinks) talk less of raising such huge amounts for treatments for lifesaving drugs (not even full cure). To them, there is no opportunity to even first raise such amounts and then get bankrupt from it. To African Cancer patients, it is a ‘non-starter’.
Medical costs…not the disease, stealing the future of Patients
Many reports show that cancer drugs consistently rank as the most expensive therapies, even though some only extend life by a few months or offer no benefit over older, less expensive drugs.
It is often said that “one cannot put a price on a human life”. Maybe this is one reason that has led to wildly overblown healthcare costs around the world. According to the paper published by the doctors, in the U.S alone, medical costs were estimated at $2.7 trillion in 2011.
The cost of cancer medications and to a larger extend, other medications, has had direct and severe impact on poor communities, especially in the third world. In India, for instance, the Supreme Court recently rejected a patent for the cancer drug Gleevec. The case was filed by patient advocates who argued that the price of the drug was completely out of reach for the vast majority of patients. They were therefore advocating for generic drugs that would be far much cheaper for the patients but at the same time providing the same effects as Gleevec.
The Patients advocate won. The Indian Supreme court decided that making small changes to an existing patented drug are not worthy of a new patent (which was what the drug company Novartis wanted). The ruling makes way for low cost Indian cancer drugs that will save lives.
This is not the first time cancer specialists have tried to push back against drug pricing. Last year in October, 2012 in the United States of America, several physicians at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York wrote an editorial in The New York Times explaining how they refused to use the colon cancer medicine Zaltrap because the price was twice higher than another drug Avastin, without offering any additional health benefits. In response to the publicity, the drug company invloved: Sanofi Sanofi lowered the cost by slashing the price by 50 percent.
Patients Should Be Placed Ahead Of Profits
The frustration and concern expressed by these 120 Specialist doctors reflect a rising concern and fear that patients are not being placed ahead of profits. With the constant price hikes across the board, involving several other drugs, it is believed that fewer patients can be expected to afford treatment around the world. The logic is simple. If the majority of patients cannot afford treatment, thousands, if not millions of them will suffer and maybe die.
In 2008 The Guardian Newspaper reported that “Effective malaria drugs are too expensive in Uganda”. This came after CNN many years before had reported that AIDS drug ‘too expensive’ in South Africa. In another related report, Democracynow.org reported with the Headline: “Fire in the Blood: Millions Die in Africa after Big Pharma Blocks Imports of Generic AIDS Drugs”.
The issue here is that almost everyone is complaining these days about the cost of medications…the Cancer patients, the Aids patients in some countries, the Malaria Patients etc etc but the very big question is, how can African Cancer, Aids, Malaria, etc patients survive if the prices of medications are completely beyond their reach? The outcome is frightening to think of.