News | Sunday, 07 December 2008

Herceptin still unavailable

Breast cancer drug Herceptin is still unavailable on the health service despite promises by health parliamentary secretary Joe Cassar that it would be available by the end of November.
On 2 November, Cassar said the costly breast cancer drug was to be made available in three weeks following a €122,000 one-time tender meant to speed up the supply of Herceptin, besides the yearly €1.3 million expense that will start from next year.
A total of 210 vials of this drug were to be purchased as a stopgap measure for those who cannot wait until early next year, when Herceptin will be available for free.
Cassar had told The Sunday Times the decision was taken to support families who were struggling to cope with financial constraints to keep their mother or wife alive.
Yet families of breast cancer patients are still struggling to cope as the promised supply has not yet arrived.
“Yesterday we had to buy our Herceptin once again,” a breast cancer patient using the drug told MaltaToday last Thursday. “Our next treatment is due on Christmas Eve, so we sincerely hope that by that time we will be given some sort of reply. It’s been really unfair and unethical of Dr Cassar to raise our hopes and then let us down once again.”
Enquiries made by the patient herself to Cassar’s ministry remained unanswered. A spokesperson for the parliamentary secretary said the health ministry had finalised the order but confirmed the supply was not yet available.
“We have sent an e-mail to Dr Cassar, but we never received a reply,” the patient said. “We have called Dr Cassar’s office and spoke to his assistant but his only reply has always been that he’s not in a position to confirm anything.
“We have also made enquires about any possible sort of compensation. We asked about the possibility of not paying Income Tax for the year during which we are taking Herceptin, but were told that this is not possible. Any form of assistance from the government would be welcome...but we’re not getting anywhere.”
At present, there are only three cancer patients undergoing Herceptin treatment.
“We don’t even need 210 vials as a ‘stopgap measures’, all that is needed for the three of us to finish our treatments is a total of 19 vials,” the patient said.
A call for quotations issued by the government for the supply Herceptin has resulted in three shockingly different prices. The lowest offer was made by UK-based pharmaceutical wholesaler, Miller & Miller, whose price for 10 vials of Herceptin was set at €5,756.81. In contrast, Cherubino – the Maltese wholesaler from whom breast cancer patients are buying their medicine – gave a price that was €1,779.61 more expensive, totalling €7,536.42 for 10 vials. Another UK-based company, P&D, quoted the price of €9,341.79 for the same amount.

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