Cancer is one of the main causes of death in Romania, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the situation worse
Cancer is the first cause of death in an increasingly large number of countries in the EU. Romania holds a negative record with respect to the rate of mortality caused by this pathology: before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 140 oncological patients would die every day. After the Sars-CoV-2 virus started spreading, the number of people suffering from various types of cancer dying every day has almost tripled, as the president of the Federation of Cancer Patient Association, Cezar Irimia, told us, based on figures provided by the National Institute of Statistics.
Representing some 30 associations from across Romania, the Federation sounded the alarm as early as last year, when the health-care crisis just started, drawing attention to the fact that, with everybody focusing on Covid-19, mortality among cancer patients was likely to grow, in the absence of proper medical care. After a year, this scenario has been confirmed, and we can draw a line and some conclusions, though not final, Cezar Irimia says:
"We believe that some of the Health Ministry's strategies were wrong. First when they made a distinction between Covid and non-Covid hospitals, and interrupted access to specialized monitoring for chronic patients in general. There followed the order stating that only emergencies can be resolved by admission to public hospitals, and that's another restriction imposed on cancer patients and not only. That order, we say, has resulted in lots of casualties. The fact that our patients could not benefit from specialized hospital care, were not monitored and could not have their medication on time, translated into loss of human lives. This is statistics, confirmed by the data provided by the National Insurance House, which reported the number of people who no longer benefit from social insurance as a result of their demise. I would say that in 2020, in oncology, the diagnostic rate dropped by 30-40% and this will show effects at the end of this year, when the newly diagnosed will overwhelm the health-care system and will generate additional costs to the daily average."
In normal conditions, nowadays life expectancy is usually high, for most types of cancer. But, suddenly, along with the pandemic, the risk of dying has tripled. The patients who need to be urgently diagnosed and treated are sentenced to a certain death by the very health system in Romania, which is a champion when it comes to deaths that could have been avoided, hospital-acquired infections, high mortality and underfinancing from the GDP, Cezar Irimia also says. In his opinion, to say that chronic patients have been afraid to go to a hospital because of the pandemic is false:
"What greater danger can there be than to die of cancer?" We felt, as chronic patients, that during the pandemic, we had only one Ministry of Covid and only Covid prevailed. The rest tried to go by, and our great luck was that doctors in general and oncologists in particular showed solidarity with the patients and, gradually, after the start of free testing, they began to see their patients, without any fear of Sars-CoV-2 infection. Free testing restored confidence in doctors and patients that they can meet and the patients can get treatment. But I repeat, still in the same conditions, with restrictions, drugs shortage, still limited access to surgical treatments. And I can give you a clear example from the Bucharest Oncological Institute: while before the pandemic, there were about 40 operations per day, during the pandemic a maximum of 10 operations per day have been performed. So, it's all come down to a quarter. We suspect that all patients have been affected by this situation and this can be seen in the statistics drawn up by the NIS. We do not say that the measures taken to tackle the pandemic were not good measures, but we have been collateral victims of these measures. There's been no overview of the system as a whole, only an exclusive focus on this pandemic, to our detriment. "
On 3 February, on the eve of World Cancer Day, the European Commission presented a Beating Cancer Plan, a key priority and pillar for a European Union focused on the physical health of its citizens. Based on research and innovation, the Plan sets out a new Union approach to prevention, diagnosis, treatment and palliative care, all vital pieces of the same puzzle and journey of every cancer patient. The Federation of Cancer Patient Associations in Romania has high hopes for this European Plan! Maybe thanks to it, in the 12th hour, the Romanian authorities will elaborate, in their turn, a Plan and a National Cancer Registry. Cezar Irimia once more:
"Together with oncologists and not only, we, as the Federation of Cancer Patient Association in Romania, have been asking for this Plan and a National Cancer Registry since 2001. We have been asking the authorities to do this for 20 years and we still don't have them. The lack of this National Registry and, first of all, of the National Cancer Plan has led to these big problems in the lives of the patients, in particular during the pandemic. If we had a National Cancer Plan, things would certainly have been much better for cancer patients. Also, the Registry we ask for would have monitored the funds allocated to oncology, would have provided statistics about the effectiveness of treatments applied to patients, and the annual budget for oncology would have been established on the basis of statistics from this Registry and not by playing it by ear, as it happens now. So only shortcomings here too! There have certainly been interests in not implementing a National Cancer Plan and a National Cancer Registry that would monitor absolutely everything that happens in relation to this pathology. We just hope to get lucky with that European Cancer Plan, which will somehow force the Member States to come up with a National Cancer Plan. Although I think that, in the European Union, we are about the only country that does not have a National Cancer Plan and a National Cancer Registry. It is clear that Romania is the country of all possibilities. That's why we have so many millionaires, and cemeteries are full of patients who stood no chance of survival. "
Cancer should not equal death, says the president of the Federation of Cancer Patient Associations, Cezar Irimia, but to cancer patients, every day is a fight, and the health-care system has an overwhelming role in supporting them in this fight. (M.I.)