National Cancer Council Malaysia, or MAKNA (Majlis Kanser Nasional), is a non-governmental organisation to help cancer patients in Malaysia. APBN editor, Carmen J.W. Loh had the chance to talk to Farahida Mohd Farid, the general manager of MAKNA at The Economist Events’ War on Cancer Healthcare Forum 2017 in Singapore – a one-day event which welcomed more than 150 stakeholders to discuss innovative ways to finance cancer care and control across Asia Pacific. MAKNA was founded by Farahida’s father, Dato’ Mohd Farid Ariffin, who said “The smallest contribution can mean the difference between life and death to many underprivileged cancer patients.”
What are the programmes carried out by MAKNA?
We carry out cancer programmes in a whole spectrum. We visit schools and universities to educate people for them to understand how to prevent cancer and living a healthy lifestyle. From the early detection aspect, we launched mobile mammogram unit for the breast cancer screening. MAKNA has a dedicated team to go around the country in our mobile truck. Our approach is to focus on rural areas where there are limited facilities. The women living there might have excuses of avoiding cancer screening, so instead of they coming to where we are, we will go to where the community is. Malaysia has 13 states, we started in Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and now our cancer screening programme is extending to Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia). We will send two mobile trucks over to Sabah and Sarawak, respectively.
MAKNA emphasizes the importance of early detection of cancer. In 2011, MAKNA launched a 40- foot trailer equipped with a mammogram machine manned by qualified radiographers and nurses, to provide free mammogram screenings to women in rural areas who have no access to the facility or are unaware of breast cancer.
The mobile truck for cancer screening will go out every week. Currently we only have approval from the Minister of Health for the breast cancer screening but we aim to do that for the top four cancer types in Malaysia - breast, cervical, colon and prostate cancer in the future. Moreover, we have collaboration with all the government hospitals to support cancer patients. 92 out of 147 government hospitals refer cases to us when the cancer patient can’t afford the payment. We will help to cover treatment cost and also post-treatment.
We prioritise places with high cancer incidence and with low access to facilities. Before our mobile truck goes out, we will talk to the local authorities, local government or local kampung head and ask from them the list of women above 40 and who have not done the mammogram before.
What are the criteria to be eligible to receive help from MAKNA?
We collaborate with government hospitals. Within the government hospital set-up, there is welfare department. If the patient is diagnosed with cancer by doctors, welfare workers will then do the screening for the patient’s affordability and socioeconomic background and refer the cases to MAKNA. We have a team to visit the patient’s home after he or she receives MAKNA’s help.
How do you do fundraising? Is it on a donation basis?
We do face-to-face fundraising, meet up with people and ask would they like to be part of this cause and help people who are not as fortunate. If they sign up, our aim is to retain them for a minimum of five years, if not more. 80% of our donors are individuals whoever who has a credit card or bank account. The donors donate RM38 (~S$12) to MAKNA every month and that is a sustainable form of funding to us. These donations make a huge difference in a stranger’s life.
How do the government and support organisations ensure higher level of cancer prevention and control in Malaysia? Are there any ongoing collaborations to address the issue?
The Ministry of Health has built ambulatory care centres in hospitals to reduce congestion, cost of overnight stays and disruption to a patient’s daily life. For our organisation, the most important aspect is funding. We see reductions in budget in most areas almost every year and the health sector is not spared. For example, the cervical cancer screening will need the tools and the pap smear test to take the samples, and we also need somebody to interpret and read. All of these are not free. As NGOs, we absorb the cost to give service to public.
How important is improving infrastructure and technology in hospital level for better cancer treatment and diagnosis?
Everything has to go concurrently. The cancer screening programme has to come together with the the infrastructure for detection.
How effective are the cancer drugs/therapies in Malaysia? How has MAKNA improved the efficiency of cancer therapy in Malaysia?
We don’t get involved in the effectiveness aspect. We provide equitable access to the cancer drug and treatment. Let say the cancer patient lives in Sabah, but the centre is at Kuala Lumpur city, we will cover the cost to receive treatment, in turn to reduce the default excuses – not accessible - given by patients to turn down the treatment.
Our KPI is 14 days for the patients to access to any help they need, and we provide timely, tailored and continuous help to each patient. Therefore MAKNA is not helping with treatment per se, but more on helping the needy cancer patients to get necessary treatment, which is very important.
How big is your team in MAKNA?
We have about 180 full-time, dedicated and passionate staffs. I think we need to have a great leadership and great team for an organisation to sustain. We are building a group of resilient and compassionate staff who are motivated by the self-fulfillment and the work they do, being a better human being.
About the Interviewee
Farahida Mohd Farid
National Cancer Council Malaysia
Farahida (Farah) Mohd Farid was appointed general manager of MAKNA (Majlis Kanser Nasional/National Cancer Council) in 2004. A law graduate, she opted against practising and made the decision to dedicate her life to serving underprivileged cancer patients.
Her experience over the years with innumerable patients grappling with the physically, emotionally and financially devastating effects of cancer has reinforced her belief that much can be done to aid cancer patients in their treatment and in their road to recovery. More than a charity organisation, MAKNA aims to provide comprehensive solutions that encompass prevention and awareness in the fight against cancer. One of the landmark initiatives that Farah and her team at MAKNA have successfully launched is a mobile mammogram unit. It not only brings mammogram screening to communities in rural and urban poor areas, but also underscores the importance of early detection in the battle against the disease. Farah is determined for MAKNA to continuously take the lead on cancer awareness, prevention and treatment, to meaningfully improve the level of care and support that cancer patients receive, and subsequently to improve their chances of leading cancer-free lives.