Cancer is a rising problem across Southeast Asia. The latest data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 2020 found that there were over 1 million new cases of cancer in Southeast Asia and almost 700,000 deaths. Based on this same database, this number is expected to rise steadily over the next few years to 1.6 million.
But these statistics alone don’t tell the full story. Historically, in many parts of Southeast Asia, receiving a cancer diagnosis has been disastrous for patients and their families. In 2015, a landmark longitudinal study that followed 9,513 cancer patients across the region found that over 75 percent of patients experienced death or financial catastrophe within a year of their diagnosis. Of the patients that did survive the first year after their diagnosis, 44 percent of people had used their entire life savings to fund their treatment.
Take as an example the story of Cambodian cancer patient Oun Retra. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2017 and chose to go to Thailand to receive treatment due to the limited treatment options available in her own country. Her family ultimately spent more than $40,000 on several rounds of chemotherapy in Thailand. Sadly, her treatment stopped with the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and Retra died in November 2020.