Dad’s cancer drug agony

Attempting to get out of bed is a daily struggle for a cancer patient who needs a drug that has been out of stock for nearly three weeks. The 59-year-old man is in pain after being forced to skip his latest treatment of zoledronic acid, which is usually given along with chemotherapy to treat bone damage caused by his prostate cancer.

“My father is extremely independent, but lately he has been feeling old and useless because he had to ask for help to put his socks on,” his son told The Sunday Times of Malta.

“His aching bones mostly affect his sternum and pelvis – he describes the pain as if somebody is sitting on his chest and sometimes he says he feels as if somebody has given him a good walloping with a metal pipe,” he added.

There are another 188 patients who urgently require zoledronic acid and a Health Ministry spokesman said authorities were doing their utmost to resolve the matter.

The drug, which costs about €400 per dose, is normally injected at a hospital and is carefully timed to ensure continuity of treatment.

The young man, who preferred not to be named, said his family had attempted to buy the medication but could not get hold of it.

“My father desperately calls the health authorities every few days and each time he gets a negative reply, any hope disappears.

“He is the cornerstone of our family; he’s a fighter but the other day he said he wished God would just take him now as he didn’t want to be a burden on anybody – it hurts to see him like that.”

My father feels as if somebody has given him a good walloping with a metal pipe

The ministry spokesman confirmed that zoledronic acid had been out of stock since the first week of January after the supplier failed to deliver. The government had attempted to get hold of the medicine locally, but to no avail.

“Fewer than eight vials were available and the amount would have not solved the issue for our 188 patients when the government’s mission and vision is equity throughout,” the spokesman said.

He explained that the Central Procurement and Supplies Unit had a pending order with the supplier, which should have been delivered in November, and a subsequent order for another half-year’s stock.

Unfortunately, the supplier was late in delivering the drug despite being repeatedly urged to speed up the process.

Last Wednesday the unit was informed that the drug was being released internationally.

It “seems” that 500 vials – which would last approximately three months – should reach Malta by the “first or second week of February”. The remaining 600 vials should arrive by March.

The shortage was brought to light by Opposition health spokesman Claudio Grech, who wrote on his blog that if the supplier failed to deliver on time the government should find other ways to provide this medicine.

“This is not about politics. This is not about pharma business. It is about the State doing its small share to help patients in serious need of life-saving medicines,” he said.

“The Opposition is willing to support any measure the government needs to take to address these situations.

“We should not leave any stone unturned to give these patients the right to live.”


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