UAE cancer patient: I bought drugs in India for a quarter of the cost and brought them home

Mother whose condition was not covered by medical insurance describes struggle for treatment

Dubai, 02, Oct, 2017 :  Umaima Tinwala  a cancer survivor pose during the interview at the launch of Pink it Now in Dubai.  Satish Kumar / For the National / Story by Nick Webster
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A mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer has described her struggle to find affordable treatment, including buying vials of chemotherapy in India and using them for treatment back in Dubai.

Umaima Tinwala, 39, originally from Mumbai, was diagnosed in 2014 after finding a lump when showering.

“I did face financial difficulty with the treatment,” she said.

“When I first found the lump I was told to get a breast MRI scan which in 2014 was only available in Dubai at the American Hospital, but the cost was Dh4,500.

“I was not covered by health insurance so had to go home to India. In the UAE scans and medicine is hugely expensive so I went to Mumbai for treatment and carried drugs back with me.

“I would bring back a Dh3,500 vial of chemo medicine, that in the UAE would cost Dh12,000. These costs make it extremely challenging for lower paid workers or those without extensive health insurance.”


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Ms Tinwala, who spoke at the launch of the Pink It Now screening campaign at Zulekha Hospital in Dubai, had to give up her job and income as she was too exhausted to work, a huge consideration as she had a 12-year-old daughter to support.

She had intensive treatment for a year, with surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy in Dubai and India.

“I was fortunate as everything fell into place as a lot of my family live in the UAE. So were able to help out whilst I was having treatment,” she said.

“I don’t know what I would have done otherwise. It was a difficult year, with a lot of physical changes and mental challenges. Because I caught it early I’m still here.”

After removing the tumour, doctors ran tests and said it was the most aggressive kind of cancer, and could have rapidly spread had it not been detected so quickly.

Ms Tinwala is now tested every six months and has been cancer free for two years.

With a family history of the illness, she is resigned to the fact her daughter is also at risk, and will also face regular tests.

“She now knows you can beat breast cancer, and that removes some of the fear.

“I was terrified when I found the lump, as I had lost relatives. Now I have survived, my daughter knows what is possible.”

Another patient, Annoud, 42, also spoke at the launch. The single mother, who asked that her family name was not used, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2016.

“My doctor told me to prepare for many changes in my life, and that I should be ready,” she said.

“After two weeks of treatment my hair started to fall out on the morning of the 14 day of the first cycle.

“I have had so much support from my friends and the hospital staff, they helped me to realise that cancer is not something to worry about.

“You have to love and to laugh, otherwise it will kill you.”