Pfizer and Cipla work to counteract the growing number of cancer cases in Africa
Pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and Cipla will be reducing the prices of 16 cancer drugs in a bid to reduce the rising number of cancer cases across Africa, included much needed chemotherapy medication.
Whilst the five-year survival rate for women with breast cancer in the United States is 90%, in Uganda it's just 46%. Cancer kills more people in the region than either malaria or tuberculosis. By 2030, the World Health Organization has now estimated that for every four deaths from HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, there will be three deaths from cancer.
The market agreement will be supported by The American Cancer Society (ACS) and the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and will improve access for those who cannot afford the rising costs of treatment. This has led to the rise of counterfeit drugs which continue to sold at premium prices. Consequently, Pfizer will only charge just above its current manufacturing costs, whilst Cipla’s medication will range from 50 cents to $10.
The following medicines under Pfizer are: Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Docetaxel, Doxorubicin, Epirubicin, Fluorouracil, Gemcitabine, Leucovorin, Methotrexate, Oxaliplatin and Paclitaxel. The agreement with Cipla will include Anastrazole, Bleomycin, Capecitabine, Carboplatin, Cisplatin, Cytarabine, Oxaliplatin and Vinblastine.
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However, Moses Kamabare, general manager of Uganda’s National Medical Stores, the health ministry’s purchasing arm informed the New York Times: “These 16 won’t be enough — they’re about half the range we need.”
“But in terms of value, they are about 75% of our current oncology budget. So, we are really, really grateful for a chance to get better quality at a better price.”
There continues to be a substantial shortage of cancer specialists, where each oncologist is unable to specialise in a particular cancer. The shortage has also led to an increased number of patients who are diagnosed too late, leading to the rising death toll.
To counteract this issue, IBM Health Corps has also collaborated with ACS and CHAI to build the necessary software to enable the ongoing budget and distribution of medicine across Africa.
Additionally, US oncologists will work to break down and simplify complex, hundred-page guidelines surrounding the treatment of each cancer for oncologists within Africa, who would otherwise be ill equipped to support the growing number of cancer patients. IBM will then ensure this information is available in a digital format, making this information increasingly accessible with this online tool.
How health plans can reduce healthcare inequalities
The COVID-19 pandemic has put inequalities accessing the healthcare system in the spotlight. Jim Clement, Vice President of Product & Services at cloud provider Inovalon, tells us that health plans play the most integral role in advancing the health equity movement.
Why did it a global pandemic to highlight the issue of healthcare inequities?
Health inequity in the US has been well understood by healthcare professionals for many years, but it has become more evident due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until the racial and ethnic differential seen in response to COVID-19 related infections, deaths and vaccinations that many Americans became acutely aware of the health inequity due to sociodemographic factors such as race, geography, education and income.
Fortunately, there’s now a growing health equity movement afoot in America which aims to improve public health and achieve equity in health status for all people by ensuring opportunities are available to attain the highest level of health. While the entire healthcare ecosystem is important to this transformation, it is health plans that arguably play the most integral role.
How can health plans help?
Achieving health equity means obstacles to health must be removed, including poverty, discrimination, powerlessness, and lack of access to the basics like physicians, hospitals, medicine, technology, and health education. This is not only a social justice initiative, but also a clear call to action for health plan organisations that are bearing the economic brunt of the costs due to health disparities.
Health plan organisations that recognise the alignment between efforts to improve health equity and broader member engagement initiatives will be in the best position to move the needle. Plans must also understand that the provision of medical services within hospital walls, physician offices and other health services providers is necessary, but not sufficient.
By recognising that health inequity also includes non-medical factors such as employment, income, housing, transportation, childcare, and more, plans will be better equipped to ensure their members are set up for success.
What do healthcare providers need to do generally to address inequities?
Outreach by both health plans and providers is critical to ensuring people have knowledge of available services, the reason those services are critical to their health, and options to access those services based on their unique circumstances. With both stakeholders beating the same drum, progress can be made quickly.
Given the impact of social determinants of health (SDOH), should healthcare providers take a more active role in addressing these, or other agencies?
While communicating with patients is critically important, what is truly required to address inequalities is helping patients take medical actions – like regular PCP visits, monitoring A1C and accepting health coaching – that are necessary to maximise their health, along with non-medical actions –like availing themselves of community resources that address homelessness, food insecurity and employment services.
The most progressive providers and payers have or are putting in place programs to address these non-medical issues. In addition, non-medical tools such as transportation services can certainly help drive the effectiveness of medical services.
How important is it to educate patients about their health and how can this be done?
Education is a social determinant of health and a key lever to be used to drive health equity. Patients who do not understand their medical conditions or the consequences of non-compliance with their treatment plans are prone to poor outcomes.
For health plans, understanding member needs is one of the biggest drivers of quality care. A continuous cycle of engagement through feedback and appropriate responses will provide health plans with an opportunity to uncover, discuss, and resolve problems faster.
Improving member outreach and engagement can be made easier with a programmatic approach involving four stages of intentional outreach: Getting to know your members, educating members, seeking feedback from members and gaining member loyalty. Each stage not only contributes to a better member experience but also to improved outcomes and higher satisfaction scores.
Now that the issue has come to the fore, what do you think things will look like in 5 years or so?
I predict that health plans that get member engagement, education and equity right will achieve better health and greater value, faster. Those who get it wrong or delay will suffer the consequences of competitive disadvantage and pay a larger share of the rising costs associated with health inequity.