Kuala Lumpur, 27 April 2020 — The nationwide extension of the Movement Control Order (MCO) until 12 May is likely to have a significant negative impact on the morbidity and mortality of people living with non-communicable diseases such as cancer.
“The repurposing and reprioritisation of public and private health systems, implementation of social distancing measures, and prolonged restrictions on movement and activities have had negative effects on patients with cancer,” said Azrul Mohd Khalib, Chief Executive of the Galen Centre for Health & Social Policy.”The condition of such patients may deteriorate as a result of delaying treatment and care due to the prolonged MCO or infection from COVID-19. They may even die as a result.”
“We are already seeing the indirect effects of the COVID-19 crisis on cancer care. With continued uncertainty surrounding the end of the partial lockdown which now into the second month, many patients are facing trouble with referrals and rescheduling of their treatments and surgeries.”
“Patients who have been going to government hospitals for cancer treatments seem to be the hardest hit. Anecdotal evidence indicates that though they have been redirected to other healthcare facilities, including those in the private sector, continuing disrupted treatment is not easily achievable,” said Azrul.
“Some patients have indicated that they were unable to get confirmation whether and when their treatments would be available at the new locations. Others, redirected to private hospitals, have stated that they couldn’t undergo surgeries due to financial constraints. The government guidelines also now require all surgical patients to be tested for COVID-19, which has increased the cost of the procedures.”
Due to a continuous focus on COVID-19 through the media and public discourse, it is also possible that patients may be starting to fear a COVID-19 diagnosis more than a cancer diagnosis.
“The fear of the MCO and of being infected with the coronavirus, could delay diagnosis even further.”
“Even after the MCO is ended, the problems will likely continue as new surgical patients will probably be rejected as backlogged cases would need to be cleared,” Azrul pointed out.
“Cancer patients, like many of those living with chronic illnesses, are anxious and fearful of their ability to access care during this difficult time. The government needs to reassure patients, act and to be seen to act to ensure that the quality and care of treatment are not compromised as an unintended consequence of the COVID-19 crisis.”
The findings of the Malaysia National Cancer Registry Report 2012–2016 (MNCRR) released back in January painted a grim reality. Many Malaysians were being diagnosed and coming for treatment late. Late diagnosis of cancer often results in poorer survival rates. Breast, colorectal, and cervical cancer were the top three cancers among women in Malaysia. For men, it was colorectal, lung, and prostate gland cancers.