Earlier this year the Australian Government announced that it was investing more than $200 million to list four new breakthrough cancer treatments on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, saving patients up to a quarter of a million dollars a year. The decision gives some 1800 cancer patients access to a range of new and innovative medications that could cost as little as $6.50 a script.
The decision was just one reason why Australia is now regarded as the world leader when it comes to both research into a wide number of cancers and the treatment thereof. Our public health system, despite its various shortcomings and criticisms, is miles ahead of most countries in the world, particularly when it comes to affordability. If you are diagnosed with a form of cancer here, the chances are that you will receive a high level of treatment and care as well as the numerous counselling services, provided by organisations such as the Cancer Council.
Compare the situation here with a country like the Philippines, a country of over 100 million, with a grossly overtaxed public health system, in which the user invariably pays. Take the case of young Filipino man Leomar Sultio, who at age 23 was recently diagnosed with Stage Two Brain Cancer. No longer able to work in a job that was earning him approximately $100 (AU) a week, he is now faced with a medication bill of $200 a week for his chemotherapy treatment.
Unlike Australia there is no Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in the Philippines and drugs, compared to incomes, are well beyond the reach of many. Medical insurance is expensive and unaffordable for most of the population. Whilst some hospital consultations are free with a Philhealth card, a single MRI scan can cost $200. An operation to remove a tumour, performed mainly by the private health sector, can cost up to $15,000.
Not surprisingly many Filipinos suffering cancer and other terminal diseases die with minimal treatment and at times, not even a precise diagnosis. The burden often falls on impoverished families and friends to meet any medical costs as well as supplying all daily living support.
Leomar lives in a tiny apartment in the Bulacan area and pays around $84 a month for electricity for what amounts to minimal use – higher than what we pay in Australia. Food has become increasingly more expensive in the Philippines and many people rely on bottled water with tap and well water undrinkable.
With his impoverished family living miles away in a remote island province, Leomar is like many young Filipino men who have become isolated and alone after moving closer to the large urban centres. Whilst there is some minor support from local charities and the doctors at his local hospital are caring and compassionate, it’s a daily struggle for somebody who is essentially all alone.
In Australia, there are excellent support services for cancer patients of all ages, many provided by the Cancer Council of Australia who does an excellent job. Unfortunately, similar services are few and far between in the Philippines.
A group of friends in Australia have got together to help Leomar with the cost of his treatment and living expenses with a Go Fund Me page at:
You can read more of his story there.