BEIRUT: The Health Ministry announced Wednesday it had updated the cancer treatment protocols covered by the ministry with the assistance of a group of experts from the Lebanese diaspora and the United Nations Development Program.
Speaking at a news conference, Health Minister Ali Hasan Khalil pledged that his ministry was working to align the country’s health services with international standards.
“The ministry has entered a new phase of organizing the health services sector in the country. [We are] developing its work based on the highest international standards,” Khalil said.
The minister said the cancer treatment protocols required standardization because “some doctors are prescribing very modern medicine that hasn’t been imported or registered with the ministry yet – this creates a conflict with patients who insist on the right to receive these prescriptions.”
Dr. Walid Ammar, director-general of the ministry, said the protocols were based on scientific concerns: “There were no recommendations from the minister for curbing the costs; his concern was to meet scientific standards.”
However, during the ceremony, head of the National Committee for Cancer Treatment Nizar Bitar spoke about the difficulty of addressing the needs of cancer patients because of the ministry’s limited budget:
“The number of cancer patients is increasing and there are new generations of anticancer drugs emerging with different clinical benefits.
“The major concern is their cost. In our country, few citizens have access to these drugs, and their availability becomes the responsibility of the ministry. The price of the needed quantity of two or three cancer drugs in 2012 could equal the budget of the ministry in 2000,” Bitar added.
The National Committee for Cancer Treatment, which includes six prominent oncologists, was established after a ministerial decision in 2010. It set down guidelines that were reviewed by expatriate doctors from distinguished international cancer centers.
“The health sector is the standard [by which] to measure a nation’s development,” said UNDP country representative Robert Watkins, adding that cancer was the cause of eight deaths per day around the world.
Khalil noted that more than half of the population lacked public or private health insurance, and that the ministry was responsible for covering their medical expenses.
“Medical subsidies by the ministry include cancer patients because of the high prices of treatment, which are out of the financial reach of most patients,” Khalil said. “The ministry should continue providing the medicine that covers all the phases of cancer treatment.”
Khalil said his ministry’s budget now stood at LL 130 billion. “What the ministry is undertaking may seem strange given the current political and security situation in the country, but we always want to be at the service of the citizens of Lebanon.”
A booklet with the updated cancer treatment protocols was distributed at the news conference.
A group of medical professionals working within the Transfer of Knowledge Through Expatriate Nationals project provided technical assistance to update the protocols. TOKTEN gives expatriates with medical experience the opportunity to provide short-term assistance in their homeland and is funded by Lebanese expatriate Monzer Hourani.