UAE | Health

Chemo crisis: Cancer patients devastated

Cancer patients devastated as government scraps free chemotherapy from May 3, call for compassion

  • By Jay B. Hilotin, Chief Reporter
  • Published: 00:00 April 28, 2011
  • XPRESS

  • Image Credit: © XPRESS/Pankaj Sharma
  • Charles Anthony Bennett
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Dubai: Cancer sufferers appealed for compassion after learning about Dubai Health Authority's (DHA) plan to charge about Dh15,000 for each chemotherapy session from May 3.

"To put it mildly, this came as quite a bombshell," said Charles Anthony Forester-Bennett, 51, a Briton battling Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma (cancer of the lymphatic system) for the last three years. "I cannot afford it," added the father of two.

Chemotherapy prevents cancer cells from reproducing and is administered in a series, typically with a three-week "rest period" to allow healthy cells to reproduce.

Catch 22 situation

Bennett, a Dubai resident for the last 10 years, who lives in The Springs, said he lost insurance cover as he changed jobs a year ago during which he declared his "pre-existing" condition to his insurer.

To get free treatment from Britain's National Health Service (NHS), it would mean giving up his Dubai job to become a permanent UK resident again and missing chemotherapy sessions due to the paperwork involved.

"That is not an option for me. If I give up my job here, that also means I will be unable to send my two daughters to university in the UK," said the divorcee, who now lives on a diet of fish and green leafy vegetables.

Bennett is hoping the DHA would not apply the changes to sufferers who already started their chemotherapy sessions in Dubai.

"It is common sense, surely, that changes in policy like this should not come into effect until those who have started a course of treatment can complete their course."

In March 2011, his oncologist informed him that his situation had deteriorated to the extent that he needed to start chemotherapy. He had his first of eight sessions on March 17 and the last of eight will be in mid-August 2011.

While Bennett said he is "incredibly impressed" with the quality of care received at the hands of the staff of Dubai Hospital, he added: "Cancer is a disease that none of us chose to get, but for which we are certainly paying a high price."

The situation of Bur Dubai resident Abraham Samuel, a 49-year-old Indian, is no different.

Samuel, diagnosed with lung cancer in March 16, 2010, said he does not know where to find the money for his next chemotherapy session scheduled for the first week of May. The stationery salesman said his treatment had already eaten up their family savings of about Dh45,000.

"This new rule means that for me to complete the treatment, I will need to raise an extra Dh60,000… which we can't afford," said Samuel, from Kochi, Kerala.

He and his wife are raising two of their children in Dubai, one of whom is a special child. "Cancer is not pneumonia or any other disease. It's beyond my affordability. I'm asking for compassion to complete my chemotherapy course. I'm hoping the DHA reverses its decision," he said.

Tanzanian breast cancer sufferer since 2008 Asya Aziz Al Balooshi, 60, said: "I worked for 16 years for Dubai Civil Aviation. Since April 2009, I've had about 20 free chemotherapy cycles to treat my breast cancer and started radiation therapy from February 2011. I'm on the way to recovery. My thoughts go to those who need to undergo chemotherapy here and can't afford it."

Others, however are not that fortunate. Rita Ganem, a 48-year-old Lebanese breast cancer sufferer said: "Since my treatment started in 2006, both my breasts had been removed. Now, I still need to undergo chemotherapy because the cancer cells have spread to other parts of my body. I've been told the cost of one-month treatment may reach Dh25,000 to Dh30,000. My family has no money for this."

Other countries

In the US, a full chemotherapy course generally ranges from $8,000 (Dh29,000) to over $15,000 (Dh55,095), excluding the cost of drugs for the procedure, which can range from $100 (Dh367) to $30,000 (Dh110,190), depending on duration and dosage.

One in five patients is unable to get necessary cancer treatment in time or at all because of the high cost.

In Canada, UK and France, cancer treatment, including chemotherapy, is free.

Did you know?

Cancer is the third-leading cause of death in the UAE after heart disease and accidents. Data from the UAE Ministry of Health show that cancer accounts for about 500 deaths per year.

 

Source: www.cancer.org ; US CDC

Comments (17)

Share your views
  1. Added 23:44 April 29, 2011

    Well God had given us cheaper, simpler and natural methods to overcome cancer. But unfortunately, we always like to rely on human-invented chemical treatments, which are costly, painful and have several side effects. Instead of opting for chemotherapy, one wonder medicine to cure cancer is to drink a glass of lemon juice daily. Try it out and it will hopefully help cancer patients fight the disease.

    Rana, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

  2. Added 14:19 April 28, 2011

    My sympathies are with these patients. NGOs and churches should come forward to help the needy. They regularly collect and receive donations from philanthropists. This money should be used to help cancer patients. I also advise these patients to approach the NGOs and churches for assistance. All the best!

    Feroze, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 12:19 April 28, 2011

    Chemotherapy is an expensive treatment and I doubt if other countries in the world provide it for free. So if UAE authorities have decided not to offer chemotherapy for free anymore, they are justified. As consumers/patients what we need the most is a regulation on the exorbitant treatment costs charged especially by private hospitals. Should private hospitals charge such high as fees for any treatment at all? It is evident that most private hospitals today are earning unreasonably with the excuse of providing best healthcare facilities. But the patient is the one who’s ending up with a hole in his pocket. Shouldn't we be questioning private hospitals as to why they are charging so high for chemotherapy? When a private hospital is set up, a return on investment is often expected in 6 months to a year’s time. Why? We need the government to step in here and regulate private hospitals so that they stop charging patients exuberantly. The UAE is a progressive country and I am sure the government will step in to regulate this matter soon.

    Latif, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  4. Added 11:39 April 28, 2011

    Having undergone treatment for cancer, I personally feel very sorry for those who have to pay heavily for chemotherapy after May 3. I request authorities to revoke this decision.

    Kumar, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 11:37 April 28, 2011

    Cancer might attack anyone of us. I understand that hospitals are unable to offer free chemo sessions, but at least they can treat patients at a subsidised cost. What about humanity? I don’t think hospitals spend Dh15,000 per chemo session. Cancer treatment must be subsidised and opened up for donations. God help us!

    Mary, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  6. Added 10:54 April 28, 2011

    My mum also has been receiving medicines free of cost for her breast cancer treatment. She was charged only for the scans. We request authorities to reconsider this decision, as not all can afford the high costs of chemotherapy. Cancer patients and their families would suffer if they have to fund for cancer treatment.

    Rizwan Rauf, Dubai, Sri Lanka

  7. Added 10:16 April 28, 2011

    This is unbelievable! Even poor countries provide free treatment to the critically ill.

    Saqeer SV, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  8. Added 10:05 April 28, 2011

    Cancer treatment should be made affordable. People in the UAE earn an average of Dh10,000 to Dh15,000 per month. Most end up saving around 20 per cent of this amount. I don’t think any salaried person can afford such high costs. Salaries rarely increase, only expenses go up.

    Aziz, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 09:51 April 28, 2011

    Al Tawam Hospital is an excellent for cancer treatment and I believe it offers concessions as well. It is definitely cheaper than hospitals in Dubai.

    Minaka, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 09:44 April 28, 2011

    Policymakers must review this issue once again before implementing it. For many expatriates, Dubai is more than a home -- and the city is already out of recession I believe… So why this rule?

    Razaul, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

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