It is difficult to determine the course that the pandemic will take in the coming months, however there are realities that cannot wait, and one of them is having cancer.
The weakness of the healthcare system, already known to some cancer patients, has become evident in recent months. Access to treatment, care, medicine and the right to early diagnosis has become difficult due to primary attention to the virus. In addition, treatments such as chemotherapy may weaken the immune system and increase the risk of being infected with COVID-19. The question, then, is, what will be the impact of COVID-19 for cancer patients?
To answer this question, the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) conducted the webinar: Cancer and COVID-19, short-term reality, long-term vision. Doctors, researchers and experts in public policy focused on European healthcare systems were invited to this event. Currently, 36 pharmaceutical associations and 39 pharmaceutical companies are part of EFPIA.
These were some of the topics highlighted during the virtual forum.
How are cancer patients feeling with the arrival of COVID-19?
It is not a secret that many of the European healthcare systems have collapsed and, when it comes to cancer, it is important to do the therapies in the shortest possible time. Some treatments have been postponed and altered, leading to stronger side effects. Patients are aware that they cannot be the priority, but it must be taken into account that coronavirus will decrease, and cancer will continue.
However, European pharmaceutical companies have refused to stop advancing in the creation and improvement of treatments. Clinical trials continue and this has been achieved through the collaboration of the European Union countries.
For now, the medium-term solution is to strengthen the healthcare system so that patients who, once the situation is normalized, need immediate diagnosis and treatment, medications, and medical support, can be cared for. It must be understood that health goes beyond cost, health is an investment in the medium and long term.
What will change for cancer patients after COVID-19?
The fight against cancer will continue to be a high priority across Europe. What will happen is that the lost time of treatments not carried out should be compensated once the situation stabilizes. Experts also believe that the crisis will cause more information exchange and cooperation to be sought in the European healthcare system, which will benefit all cancer patients.
According to Bettina Ryll -one of EFPIA’s founders and a cancer patient- clinical research and medicine are, now, in separate places. As a result of the coronavirus, these two areas will have to work at the same time and in the same space, to provide a prompt solution to patients. In summary, according to experts, coronavirus will generate a creation of effective strategies to fight cancer.
How do we ensure we do not lose access to cancer treatments because of the economic impact of the pandemic?
One solution to avoid losing access to treatments is to share lessons with European Union countries, and open the discussion on how to better use the resources allocated to healthcare systems. However, the coronavirus has shown a lack of innovation in the field of fighting cancer.
The relevance of betting on the optimization of treatments was also shown, for example, seeking that these only have to be administered for one time. For this purpose, money must be injected into new research. Finally, efforts must be made on cancer prevention, because 40% of cancers are preventable. So, many screening diagnoses must be performed during and after the pandemic to find out exactly who needs treatment and avoid collapsing the healthcare system.
Is it possible to have telemedicine or medicine at home for cancer treatments?
It is possible, but only in some stages of cancer. The time it takes for healthcare to attend these patients is time that will be paid for with lives. It is essential to start looking for safe places to continue treatments immediately.
Nathalie Moll -EFPIA’s director general- says that they are trying to create mobile phone applications, so that patients and companies can have continuous answers to persistent problems.
After the COVID-19 crisis, should cancer information become public for everyone?
Sharing information has always been an option, the important thing is to know how to interpret it and to know how to display it. For these two reasons, there is a lot of information outside that is not being used. The coronavirus has given the health and research sector tools to bring information to the same standards, and the value of information has been shown to translate into saving lives.
What is the next step for pharmaceutical companies in the fight against cancer during the pandemic?
A strategy must be created to secure more medical supplies and foster new treatments. Likewise, it is necessary to have a more horizontal conversation with the entire healthcare ecosystem in order to advance in innovation and the pharmaceutical industry, in the end, can contribute with case information in real time.
Finally, it must be ensured that all Europe has a good capacity to respond to cancer patients. All efforts cannot be taken to a single country or a single region, we must work together so that in this way, we can also help less benefited countries that do not have the means, not only in Europe, but worldwide.
In conclusion, coronavirus brought to the surface the need to approach the fight against cancer as a long-term challenge, which requires effort, investment, and collaboration. Inequalities between Europe in terms of health also means that there are countries that are doing things better; therefore, these countries must be those that raise everyone to the same level.
Click here to access video of talk organized by EFPIA.
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