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."
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