Joy News’ investigations have uncovered breast cancer patients at the radiotherapy units of Ghana’s two main referral hospitals are made to pay some unapproved fees before being administered a life-saving drug.
An agreement signed between government and the Swiss-based pharmaceutical company, Roche in 2018 provided breast cancer patients with a treatment drug called Herceptin at no cost.
But the radiotherapy units of the two hospitals are billing the patients for facility user, development fund and chemotherapy fees before they can receive the essential drug.
Joy News’ investigations found that that the hospitals are making up to ¢300 per vial of Herceptin administered to the patients.
Vida, not her real name, is a middle-aged woman battling breast cancer. Her biggest worry now is that she spends all her meagre income treating the infection. Now her business is on the verge of collapse.
It’s her first time at the radiotherapy unit of Korle Bu and she’s been asked to pay ¢250 before she is given the medication.
Even though she is covered under the NHIS, she will not be administered the Herceptin injection until she foots the bill.
She is issued with a receipt billing her for facility user fees and chemo. This has worsened her burden, she said.
The Global Cancer Incidence, Mortality and Prevalence, GLOBOCAN estimates that 16,000 cases of cancer occur annually in Ghana.
In 2018, the Ministry of Health and Swiss based Roche Pharmaceuticals signed an agreement aimed at making herceptin free for breast cancer patients under the NHIS.
Country Director of Roche Philip Addison said the partnership between government and the Swiss company was to eliminate the cost barriers facing breast cancer patients in Ghana.
But, Joy News checks revealed that since November last year, health officials at the Radiotherapy unit of Korle Bu have charged patients three different unapproved fees before administering the herceptin injection.
In one encounter, two patients were charged separate amounts – ¢250 and ¢200 – on November 14, last year before accessing the breast cancer medication.
These monies are meant for facility user fees and chemo, though none of the patients were offered chemotherapy.
One of the patients we have decided to call Veronica said she sought explanation from the authorities at the radiotherapy unit of Korle Bu on why she was charged for a treatment which was meant to be free. She was told the monies were meant for consultation, she claims.
The Chief Executive Officer of Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, Dr Daniel Asare, said his office isn’t aware of the charges and has not sanctioned them.
Also, the Head of the Radiotherapy Unit at the hospital, Dr Joel Yarney, told the reporter that patients are not supposed to pay these fees.
The discrepancy was caused by delays in relaying the information to the facility not to charge breast cancer patients after government entered the agreement with Roche to absorb the cost related to breast cancer treatment July last year.
The investigation into these unapproved fees started in November 2019.
It means this delay Dr Yarney talks about has persisted for five months while patients were paying monies they weren’t supposed to.
In the Ashanti regional capital of Kumasi, the reporter also sought to ascertain how the free breast cancer care is being run there.
There, he met Adwoa Konadu [not her real name], one of the breast cancer patients who access care at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital. She was charged ¢60 for her breast cancer treatment.
She is also not supposed to be charged these fees under the existing agreement.
A report on the implementation of the project to include Herceptin on the NHIS medicine list added the injection at a reimbursable price of ¢3,914 to radiotherapy units of Korle Bu and KATH.
Sources at the NHIA told Joy News that these units of the hospitals make ¢300 in excess profit per vial of Herceptin they administer to a breast cancer patient.
Head of the Oncology Department of KATH Dr Osei Bonsu discloses the monies charged breast cancer patients are meant for the unit’s development fund.
Clinical Oncologist at KATH, Dr Francis Margaret Hoyte Williams sheds more light on the rationale behind the fees charged breast cancer patients.
But, Country Director of Roche Philip Addison says this defeats the purpose of the programme to provide free medication for the scores of women living with breast cancer.