Effective Breast Cancer Treatment Available, But Not for The Poor

Siboniso Mawandla | The Republic Mail

Millions of South African women die of breast cancer every year, this disease does not only affect South African women but it is a global problem. Women in the rural areas are especially vulnerable, as most of them do not know what cancer is, or how to recognize the early symptoms of the disease.

Roche, a pharmaceutical company, has developed a drug Trastuzumab, simply known as Herceptin. Herceptin has proven to be the most effective treatment for breast cancer compared to chemotherapy and other traditional treatments.

The drug is not well known to the public because it is highly expensive. Very few or close to none of the medical aids cover the treatment. The Department of Health is said to be engaging in talks with Roche South Africa about the pricing, so that the public sector can have access to the drug at an affordable price.

Roche has been in negotiations with the National Department of Health over the past year to improve equitable access to trastuzumab in the public sector. We have offered the National Department of Health a significantly reduced and cost-effective treatment option. This treatment supports the testing of breast cancer patients in the public sector, and if positive for the HER2 gene, makes trastuzumab available for the treatment of these patients, Roche said in a statement on their company website.

“Yet I can assure you it is a very significant price reduction, and the price finally comes out as highly cost effective in the South African context. The decision lies with the Department of Health. We are currently waiting for the final recommendation of the pricing committee and only then, we can move forward, said Roche manager, Rajendran Bhimaraj.

“The pricing committee is about exit price prescriptions through pharmacies, it is not about the prices of pharmaceuticals. If we were setting prices of pharmaceuticals ourselves, we would have set it long ago”, said the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi.

Roche has patents in South Africa, meaning that other pharmaceutical companies in South Africa are not allowed to produce a similar drug to Herceptin (trastuzumab). This gives Rouche the upper hand as they are the only company in South Africa that can provide the highly essential treatment. That also means that they set the pricing. Patents are meant to reward pharmaceuticals for their research and innovations.

Roche claims that they had made an offer to the Department of health, and that they are only waiting for the department to respond.

The Minister told the crew of checkpoint that he will respond as soon as he gets time.

“We still have a lot of things going on in South Africa now, as soon as I get time and settle, I will respond to them,” said the Minister of Health, Aaron Motsoaledi.

“More women will die every day because they do not get a drug that I consider vital to their survival.” Said Dr. Devan Moodley, Oncologist at the Donald Gordon Medical Centre.