The direct and indirect economic burden of six common types of cancer in Vietnam amounts to over US$1 billion a year, health officials said in a conference this week.
A conference on 'Effective Approaches to Cancer Treatment and Meeting Patients’ Ability to Pay' was held by the Ministry of Health in Hanoi on Tuesday.
Speaking at the conference, Tran Van Tuan, director of the Institute for Research on Cancer Prevention and Treatment, said six types of cancer - liver, breast, cervical, colorectal, oral, and stomach cancer - cause an economic loss of up to VND26 trillion ($1.16 billion) a year in Vietnam.
Tuan added that breast and colorectal cancer alone cost Vietnam VND9.2 trillion ($411 million) and VND8.6 trillion ($384 million), respectively.
According to Tuan’s report, 50 to 87 percent of patients suffering from ten common types of cancer make their first visit to the hospital for treatment when they are already at stage III or later. Liver cancer patients were reportedly among the slowest to detect their illness.
The results of the Costs in Oncology (ACTION) study conducted by the Sydney-based George Institute for Global Health were also announced at the conference.
ACTION is a study of 10,000 first-time cancer patients across eight Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, including Vietnam, who were interviewed at baseline, three, and 12 months after their diagnosis to assess the financial and social impact of cancer on patients and their households.
In Vietnam, 1,200 cancer patients were selected from Bach Mai Hospital and K Hospital in Hanoi, and the Hospital of Oncology in Ho Chi Minh City, to take part in the study.
The study found that the average cancer patient in Vietnam had to pay VND100 million ($4,500) for their first admission, over thirty times the minimum monthly wage in the Southeast Asian country.
Over 22 percent of respondents said their family was having difficulties paying the hospital fees in their first year of cancer treatment.
Further interviews with nearly 560 patients that had stated no financial difficulty in their first 12 months revealed that 41 percent of them began to face “economic hardship” after the first year, with five percent of these patients saying they could no longer pay for their medication.
Sixty percent of respondents were covered by health insurance, while a representative from Vietnam Social Insurance reported at the conference that the fund had paid nearly VND4.4 trillion ($196 million) for cancer patients in 2014 and 2015.
Seventy-five percent of cancer patients in Vietnam reportedly die only a short time after their first diagnosis.