Covid-19: Health experts calls for more private-public partnerships as fewer people go for cancer screenings

Health experts are calling for more partnerships between private and public health sectors following a drop in turn up rates for cancer screening amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. — Picture from Pexels.com
Health experts are calling for more partnerships between private and public health sectors following a drop in turn up rates for cancer screening amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. — Picture from Pexels.com

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — Health experts are calling for more partnerships between private and public health sectors following a drop in people going for cancer screening amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

National Cancer Society of Malaysia managing director Dr Murallitharan Munisamy said since the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been an estimated 70 per cent drop nationwide in turn up rates for cancer screenings compared to pre-Covid years.

There have been a few factors contributing to this with one of the reasons being public avoidance of hospitals due to fears of getting infected — which could also lead to an influx of cancer patients with late diagnosis in the future.

According to the Malaysian Study on Cancer Survival (MySCan), the five-year survival for lung cancer is only at 11 per cent compared to prostate cancer (73 per cent) while it is 67 per cent for breast cancer.

The study shows that the major reason behind the small percentage for lung cancer is due to late diagnosis with 80 per cent of cancer patients being diagnosed at stage four.

However, Dr Murallitharan pointed out that there are a few lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic that could be implemented in the nation’s healthcare sectors to further improve cancer care.

Amongst them are the partnerships between the public and private health sectors.

“Now, one of the important things that we can learn from the pandemic is, firstly, it’s not all about leaving the government to pay for things.

“At one point, the government was not able to manage Covid-19 on its own and the private industry, NGOs, all of us have stepped up to bridge that gap.

“Similarly, this could be another solution which works in terms of the management of lung cancer and access to therapeutics as well,” Dr Murallitharan said. 

National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s Managing Director, Dr. Murallitharan Munisamy. — Picture courtesy of National Cancer Society of Malaysia
National Cancer Society of Malaysia’s Managing Director, Dr. Murallitharan Munisamy. — Picture courtesy of National Cancer Society of Malaysia

He added that this was the first time professionals from the private sectors were working together with the government hospitals as cancer patients from public hospitals are being transferred to private hospitals for treatments.

“And the second thing is — for example, at one-point, public hospitals have run out of ventilators, and we’ve seen companies, institutions, and foundations stepping up to help provide that.

“Why should it stop with ventilators? I see lung cancer as a crisis, too, if over 90 per cent of patients only have a median survival of 6.8 months.

“Big corporations can also step in, to co-fund therapeutics.

“This is another area in which people can step forward to assist in a kind of partnership between the public and private sector, getting co-funders to come in and help subsidise or help improve patient access to cancer treatment,” he said.

Lung Cancer Network Malaysia's clinical oncologist, Dr.Tho Lye Mun. — Picture courtesy of National Cancer Society of Malaysia
Lung Cancer Network Malaysia's clinical oncologist, Dr.Tho Lye Mun. — Picture courtesy of National Cancer Society of Malaysia

Lung Cancer Network Malaysia clinical oncologist DrTho Lye Mun said the advancement of today’s medical innovation has resulted in lung cancer patient’s survival rate tripling or quadrupling if they were given the right treatment.

“In this age of medical advancement and innovation, cancer is no longer a death sentence; we are seeing an innovative approach to cancer treatment emerge, which considers the individual’s unique genetics, environment, and lifestyle to personalize the treatment approach.

“We are moving away from a one-size-fits-all model. By studying each patient carefully, we’re able to match the right treatment to each patient and move away from a trial-and-error approach,” Tho said, adding that the method will also save time and costs.

Tho also suggested shifting towards targeted therapy and immunotherapy instead of chemotherapy.

“Immunotherapy is a new innovative way that we use to harness the patient’s own immune system to enhance it to fight cancer.

“A study has shown that patients who received immunotherapy upfront, achieved a 32 per cent survival rate at five years.

“This represents a paradigm change, and not only that, but these patients are also able to maintain a good quality of life and spend many productive years with loved ones and family, continue to work to provide for the family, and to pay for the medical insurance that will pay for the treatment,” he said. 

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