Shortage of cancer medication for children… again

Photo: Emergency physicians monthly

Children with cancer are hanging on by a thread: a new shortage of medicines has been reported in Mexico. Parents denounce that despite government promises, there is a lack of care for their children

MEXICO CITYDhana is only five years old and in her short life the shortage of medicines to combat her acute lymphoblastic leukaemia has been a constant.

First at the government clinic in her native Chiapas (south) and now at the Federico Gómez Children’s Hospital in Mexico City, where her chemotherapies have been intermittent for months. The medicines were discontinued in September and October 2018, then in February and August 2019.

According to the Mexican government, the lack of medicines is partly due to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s anti-corruption crusade to prevent the diversion of resources in the health sector.

This was compounded by the lack of inputs abroad to produce the medicines and the decision by health authorities to close seven plants of the most important distributor of methotrexate, one of the medicines used in the treatment of cancer.

Although the government promised to solve the problem of the shortage, this has not yet happened.

“The new government promised that the interruption of treatments would not happen again. That didn’t happen,” Dhana’s father, Israel Rivas, told AFP. In January another crisis began and “there was not a single chemotherapy” he adds.

Parents of children with cancer, protest the lack of medications.

Since then, parents who fight against time to preserve their children’s health began contacting Rivas to expose the shortage in public hospitals throughout the country. He receives daily messages from Tijuana (north), Oaxaca (south), Puebla (center), Merida (east), Guadalajara (west), Minatitlan (south), Acapulco (south), among other cities.

Outside Mexico City, the situation is worse: the drugs are no longer given in full or have to be divided among several patients so that they at least do not interrupt their treatment.

For Crisanto Flores, Cristal’s father, a three-year-old girl suffering from eye cancer, cutting off her medication is not an option. A little more than a year ago, and with few resources, she moved to the State of Mexico so that her only daughter could be treated in the country’s capital.

Cancer has already taken one of her eyes away from Cristal, and Flores will not allow the lack of medicine to take her away from anything else.

According to figures from the Health Ministry, Mexico registers 7,000 new cases of childhood cancer each year. If they get full treatment on time, 57.5% of them can survive.

At four years old, Hermes Soto is two months away from beating cancer, so his mother, Esperanza Paz, asks that during that period there be no lack of medicine to get him out of this bad dream soon.

“We only have three more cycles of chemotherapy to go. On Monday, we will receive the second to last cycle.” he says.

Cancer doesn’t wait
Emmanuel Garcia in Baja California (north) and Alejandro Barbosa in Jalisco (west) live more than 1,900 kilometers away, but both have a common mission: to get medicine for the children in their respective states. “Cancer waits for no one,” warns Garcia.  “We buy the medicines from government-certified distributors who bring them from abroad and we pay a lot of money for them,” explains Barbosa, a member of the Red Nose Hospital clown group.

The cost of vincristine, one of the most widely used substances in chemotherapy, skyrocketed in the face of the shortage. In less than a year, it increased more than 400%, from about 440 pesos (US$24) to more than 2,220 pesos (US$118).

García explains that the children of Tijuana, a city on the border with the United States, were “locked out” last December.

Although the children are now enjoying a break thanks to a local donation, the activist is not satisfied and is preparing a protest at the border.

“They ask me, if there is no longer a lack of medicine in Baja California, why do we say we will close the line (border crossing between Mexico and the United States). I answer them: what about the children in southern Mexico,” reflects García.

Scarcity that doesn’t stop
A group of parents of children with cancer closed down access to Mexico City’s airport, the country’s largest, on Jan. 22 to pressure the government to deliver drugs to their children.

A day later, López Obrador blamed this on the old government procurement model, which he said was full of corruption. “There is no (lack of medicines), in the case of children with cancer, and there will never be any (?) even if we have to buy them in other countries of the world, we have a sufficient budget,” promised the Mexican president.

Three weeks later, the promise has not been fulfilled in Mérida, capital of the state of Yucatán (southeast). Flor González, mother of a girl with cancer, says that six months ago “one or two drugs” began to be missing, but in February the number rose to nearly a dozen.

Parents of children with cancer, protest the lack of medications.

“The oncological treatment of children is on a three- to five-drug schedule. They are practically given what they have,” he explains.

Faced with these problems, the Mexican government promised that the drug crisis would be solved this week; however, parents are wary of this promise since they have been told the same thing on two previous occasions.

“We are going to give them the last vote of confidence,” says Israel Rivas, who warns that if this does not happen the protests will continue throughout the country.

In Mexico there are more than 26.4 million children without access to social security. These children have access to treatment through government programs without undermining the family economy.

That is why parents with children receiving chemotherapy like Rivas, Flores, Gonzalez and Paz are demanding that the government not only guarantee the supply of medicine, but that this episode is not repeated. Its consequences, however, only time will tell.

The Yucatan Times
Newsroom



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