Approximately 18,000 patients in Lithuania are diagnosed with oncological diseases each year, and according to the World Health Organization (WHO), by 2040 cancer will become the main reason for death worldwide. This week the future of treatment of oncological diseases in Lithuania was discussed at the meeting of Local American Working Group (LAWG).
According to experts, there is now a huge breakthrough in the world for cancer treatment – today 2 out of 3 people with cancer are living for at least 5 more years – that‘s 66,000 more than a decade ago. Working capacity is also increasing – today, innovative treatment therapies allow 4 out of 5 cancer patients to return to work.
“In the Netherlands, 83% of people with head and neck cancers return to work after 6 months of treatment, in France – 82% of women with breast cancer return to work after 10.8 months,” said Ruta Pumputiene, head of the Local American Working Group.
Innovative treatment is not available
Meanwhile, in Lithuania, survival in oncology remains one of the lowest in Europe. According to the report, the lowest survival rate is recorded at 9% for lung cancer patients, 32% for ovarian cancer and 43% for rectal cancer, the highest survival rates are recorder at 83% for prostate cancer, 69% for skin melanoma, and 67% for breast cancer.
According to experts, low survival rates are often caused not only by late diagnoses but also by the lack of access to innovative treatment, because countries with new treatment methods have better results.
Feliksas Jankevičius, Director of the National Cancer Institute stressed that, as far as the availability of innovative medicines is concerned, Lithuania only reimburses patients for 50 percent of what could already be compensated. “We lag behind the flow of innovation that is now in Europe,” said F. Jankevičius. “When you face people’s lives, fates daily, these issues become extremely sharp and topical. The quality of life is one of the parameters that need to be taken into account when deciding on reimbursement for medicines, ” he added.
Who’s to blame
“The situation is caused not only by outdated budgeting planning but also the fact that in Lithuania there, not enough money is allocated to finance cancer treatment – only about 6% of total health expenditure is spent per year. <…> we lag behind the EU average by about 0.5 billion Eur per year <…>“ said Pumputiene.
It is argued that small technical aspects and bureaucracy often hinder access to innovative treatment: institutions which decide on the reimbursement of new oncological drugs often say, “there is not enough data” for the efficacy of these drugs, but at the same time these institutions do not take into account that this “necessary”. Data is simply not available (because patients survive, recover, and research simply cannot continue).
According to the speakers, another issue is that in Lithuania oncological medicines are evaluated on the same basis for all medicines, although in other countries there are separate criteria for the assessment of the therapeutic value of medicines for oncological diseases.
Simona Stankevičiūtė, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, agreed with the conference organizers that there was a need to discuss the application of different criteria to different medicines: “Everything needs to be discussed,” she said.
Offers a solution
According to the discussion organizers, Lithuania has excellent doctors, as well as the determination to reform the health system at the political level, but important homework needs to be done to increase the survival rates of Lithuanian patients.
“Firstly, we need to evaluate all the costs of healthcare, to reduce the possible waste. Secondly, we need to start paying for results thus supporting evidence-based treatment. Thirdly, we have to avoid outdated policies which discourage investment. Instead, working with the industry to find new opportunities should be favored”- stressed R. Pumputiene.