Welcome to a compelling journey through the current landscape of cancer care in Thailand, an enthralling story of hope, innovation, and the relentless battle against a formidable foe: cancer. Each year, Thailand bears witness to the emergence of about 140,000 new warriors in the fight against cancer, battling not just the disease but also the harsh reality of approximately 84,000 people succumbing to it annually.
The “30-baht plus policy” by the Ministry of Public Health emerges as a knight in shining armor, offering comprehensive cancer care as one of its Quick Win policies. Alongside, the Cancer Warrior project strides forward, serving as a vigilant sentinel for early detection, ensuring that those affected can access treatment without delay. Liver cancer, notorious for its stealth and severity, now confronts high-quality medicine and state-of-the-art technology, all thanks to the concerted efforts of the National Health Security Office and the Social Security Office in comprehensive cancer screening.
Dr. Napa Siriwiwattanakul, the visionary Director of the National Cancer Institute, reveals a staggering statistic: 73.3% of liver cancer patients are found in Asia. The silent whispers of liver cancer can be attributed to hepatitis B and C, with hepatitis B holding a 90% transmission rate from mother to child. The diabolical transformation from infection to liver cancer occurs at a rate of 2% per year for hepatitis B, and 1-4% per year for hepatitis C, a nefarious lottery where no ticket is desired.
With 26,704 deaths per year, Thailand finds itself fourth in the global rankings of liver cancer fatality, a dubious distinction that underscores the gravity of this health crisis. According to Dr. Jamrus Pongpit, a renowned Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist, liver cancer asserts itself as the grim reaper of cancers in Thailand, claiming lives every 20 minutes. This silent assassin often remains undetected in its early stages, making early detection and treatment more critical than ever.
Enter Col. Asst. Prof. Naiyarat Prasongsook, a medical oncologist who describes the cutting-edge treatments for advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. From targeted therapy, offering a glimmer of hope with a survival rate of about 10-13 months, to the promising horizon of immunotherapy combined with antiangiogenic drugs, boasting survival rates of up to 24 months in some regions. However, these innovative treatments are yet to be embraced by the 30-baht universal healthcare scheme, leaving a gap in the fortress of healthcare provision.
Weerayut Yodkam, a liver cancer patient, shares his harrowing yet hopeful story. Diagnosed in 2019, he has traversed the challenging path of antiviral drugs and targeted therapy, enduring the wrath of side effects. However, the switch to immunotherapy and antiangiogenic drugs marked a turning point, with visible improvements and a resurgence of strength, albeit at a personal financial cost due to the treatments’ exclusion from the healthcare scheme.
Dr. Jakkrit Ngowsiri, Deputy Secretary-General of NHSO, champions the doctrine that cancer medicine is a fundamental human right. Amidst this battle, he outlines the fervent efforts to ensure equitable access to these life-saving treatments, emphasizing the seamless integration of new therapies without the agonizing wait for inclusion in the national list of essential medicines.
Amidst this narrative of struggle and resilience, Prof. Dr. Pisit Tangkijvanich of the King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital presents a realistic yet optimistic view. Acknowledging the constraints in providing universal access to advanced-stage treatments, he advocates for prioritizing those who could benefit the most, grounded on the encouraging efficacy data of immunotherapy among Thai patients.
This tale of endurance, innovation, and hope is underpinned by the support of Roche Thailand, a beacon of healthcare innovation, continually investing in the research and development that lights the way in this enduring battle against cancer. As the narrative unfolds, Thailand’s journey exemplifies not just a battle against a disease but a testament to human resilience and the relentless pursuit of a cancer-free future.