UAE patients pay the price of rising costs of cancer care

Charities demand a rethink over pricing as low income patients are forced abroad for cheaper therapies

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. May 16, 2017///

Nora Al Suwaidi, director general of Rahma. Year of giving Forum for UAE Cancer Patients in The Emirates Center for strategic Studies and Research. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Mona Al Marzooqi/ The National 

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Reporter: Naser Al Wasmi 
Section: National  *** Local Caption ***  170516-MM-UAEcancer-013.JPG
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Cancer charities are calling on changes to UAE drug pricing and more financial support for low income patients as chemotherapy costs continue to rise.

According to researchers at cancer charity Rahma, a monthly course of chemotherapy can cost up to Dh32,000 depending on the type of cancer and treatment required.

In America, prices are similar to the UAE, but are cheaper in the UK and Australia where patented cancer medicines cost about Dh10,000 for a monthly supply.

In India, where chemotherapy is the cheapest in the world, treatments start from just Dh8,500 after regulation was introduced in 2016.

“If high prices make drugs unaffordable and inaccessible, and are causing harm as a result, then we should be seeking new solutions,” said Nora Al Suwaidi, director general at cancer care charity Rahma.

“In the new era of cancer patient care and treatment, doctors have to act as financial planners to find treatment that patients can afford.

“Conflict within the health sector is increasing, which implies the pharmaceutical industry is profiteering from the suffering of cancer patients.

“In the UAE we need to introduce a scheme where low income cancer patients have access to cheap or free cancer drugs via pharmaceutical companies and charitable organizations.”


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The charity has called on the UAE Federal Council and Ministry of Health and Prevention to create a UAE Federal Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority, to regulate prices and provide guidance to manufacturers and insurers.

While the rest of the world is increasing the price of branded and generic cancer drugs, India is showing how to cut costs.

The Indian National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority declared the lowering price of medicines to treat cancer by 13 per cent last year.

The reduction is across both branded and generic cancer drugs, and due to a clear strategic intervention by the responsible authority.

In the UK, the British Generic Manufacturers Association which produces generic drugs is supporting a similar scheme for the lowering of cancer drugs cost.

According to a study by Credit Suisse, price hikes accounted for all the earnings growth in the pharmaceuticals industry.

Despite increased public scrutiny of drug prices, analysts at Credit Suisse believe net global price increases contributed about $8.7bn to net income in 2016.

Rahma has said cancer drugs are more expensive in the UAE due to lack of regulation and price control by authorities, and a shortage of domestic cancer drug manufacturing facilities.

An over reliance on branded medication rather than generic cancer drugs which offer more value is also contributing to high costs.

Dr Sawsan Al Madhi, director general of Friends of Cancer Patients - a charity helping patients find solutions to health needs, said focus should be on how to make drugs more affordable.

“We need to ask not why it is so high, but what treatments are available,” she said.

“Some of the cancer treatments here are the latest therapies available, and are not covered under health insurance.”

New therapies released onto the market often start out expensive as pharmaceutical companies try to recoup the costs of research and development they have incurred.

As a result, many of the latest cancer treatments are unavailable under basic health insurance packages.

“It is not about spending millions of dollars looking for the magic bullet to cure cancer, but finding out how we can make these therapies more affordable for the masses,” said Dr al Madhi.

“All doctors want the perfect dose to be able to give to their patients.

“Insurance companies need to start listening to results of new medical research and evidence based treatments that have an impact in patient survival.”

Dr Mohanad Diab, head of medical oncology at NMC Specialty Hospital, Abu Dhabi said generic medicines were not always suitable.

During his time working at a cancer hospital in Sweden, he found some generic drugs had severe side effects.

“Generic medicines are never exactly the same as originals,” he said.

“For example, one patient taking an original branded anti-hormone therapy which cost Dh650 over a period of time had few side effects.

“When we switched to a cheaper generic medicine, she started to have hot flushes and joint pain.

“The price of original medication remains high, and we should be working towards bringing these costs down.”