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ADB flags cancer treatment shortcomings as case count rises in Asia


ASIAN GOVERNMENTS must innovate in how they support cancer care, which is underfunded even while the incidence of cancer rises, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said.

“Compared to COVID-19, cancer is a long-term challenge for healthcare systems. No lockdowns can stop or slow the emergence of cancer incidences,” the ADB said in a blog.

“There is a massive gap in annual investment in public healthcare, with investment of less than $100 per capita in countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam compared to more than $3,500 per capita in Japan,” it added.

The ADB said that half of all cancer patients and their households in Southeast Asia face “financial catastrophe” from high medical expenditures.

In Asia, the annual number of new cancer cases increased from 4.9 million in 2002 to 9.5 million in 2020. 

“The pandemic has put a spotlight on health system resilience around the world. Demands on healthcare provision have skyrocketed in record time and brought some healthcare systems to the brink of collapse. Public funds to purchase testing equipment, protective equipment, and later on also vaccines were cleared quickly,” the bank said.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created tremendous momentum in the field of healthcare. However, the long-term challenge for health systems in Asia lies with non-communicable diseases, in particular cancer, spurred by shifting demographics. There is an urgent need to address the growing demands in cancer care,” it added. 

The ADB recommended that governments include new value- and evidence-based medicines in national formularies in order to maximize positive patient outcomes with limited resources.

“Health technology assessment is a tool to support evidence-based reimbursement decision-making for inclusion in national formularies, but its use is still in its infancy in many Asian countries,” it said.

Governments must also stimulate competition among pharmaceutical producers to raise capital.

“With the first wave of modern cancer medicines launched at the turn of the millennium going off- patent now, the use of biosimilars and generics instead of the originator medicines deserves greater attention,” it said.

“Generic brand competition and stricter price control of originator medicines after patent expiry could create considerable budget headroom for governments. A published estimate of a basket of cancer medicines with generic brands points to savings opportunities of around 3%-20% of total cancer medicine expenditure in Asia and the Pacific region,” it added.

These funds can be channeled into innovative medicines to offer a more sustainable financing model while improving patient outcomes. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson

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