HEAD of the Radiation Oncology Centre of Jamaica (ROCJ) Dr Winston 'Freddy' Clarke is calling for a partnership between private health care institutions and the Government to assist needy cancer patients who cannot afford the"three-dimensional" radiation therapy.
Clarke's call comes days after 24-year-old stomach cancer patient, Sasha Gaye Lewis, made a public appeal for help to find $1.7 million to undergo chemo-radiation, which could go a far way in saving her life.
Clarke said the ROCJ had offered Lewis a discount of $1.1 million, through the Ministry of Health's Compassionate Fund, but was not aware if Lewis was informed of that development.
Lewis told the Jamaica Observer that she was not aware of the discount until days ago when she saw a report in the media.
"I never knew about it. I was asking myself, how can they give somebody a discount and not tell the person?" she said.
But Clarke said it was the responsibility of the KPH to inform needy patients that they were being offered a discount.
"We need a public/private partnership, which could efficiently handle people in need," Clarke told the Jamaica Observer.
The ROCJ charges those who can afford to pay up to $2 million for five to eight weeks of treatment, but Clarke pointed out that the company works closely with the Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) to assist those who are out of pocket, and offers 50 to 70 per cent discounts to those patients who are referred to them by the hospital.
Apart from Lewis, ROCJ has offered discounts to cancer patients Dillon Williams and Ajani Campbell in recent times.
"ROCJ had offered, through KPH, to treat Sasha Gaye Lewis and Dillon for $600,000 each. Further to a request from the Ministry of Health Compassionate Fund, ROCJ offered to treat Ajani for $900,000," stated a letter to the media last week bearing Clarke's signature.
He said the partnership was needed because people who are diagnosed with cancer and are recommended to undergo radiation therapy have an immediate need.
"Radiation is a now thing. After three to six months patients get worse, some die or become untreatable. We need to have a fund established for people to access this treatment, because delay will have them end up in a worse state in their disease progression," he said.
While cancer treatment figures are quoted in the millions, on a global scale Jamaica offers one of the cheapest rates for radiation and chemotherapy.
Clarke said just quoting the figures without researching the cost on the world market might end up with ROCJ and other private cancer clinics being unfairly stigmatised.
"The charges just can't be viewed on their own. We have to have some understanding that this high-level technology is paid for and maintained in US dollars. Already we are offering an equivalent of US$15,000 to US$18,000. In the States or Canada they would be paying US$50,000 to US$60,000," he said.
In addition, Clarke stated that he is faced with astronomical energy bills and has to import people with the skill from India, Botswana and Trinidad as there is no institution set up to train Jamaicans how to administer the treatment and operate the machinery.
"Jamaica offers the cheapest treatment in the English-speaking Caribbean," he said.