Hong Kong cancer therapy

Hong Kong cancer patients who don’t qualify for government subsidies find help in charity’s crowdfunding drive

Group will function as watchdog to screen cases, with campaign aimed at raising awareness among public and government for overlooked segment

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 8:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2018, 5:10pm

A patient support group in Hong Kong has initiated a crowdfunding initiative to help cancer patients who fall outside the government’s medical safety net seek support from the public. Charity Foundation aims to lighten the financial burden on sufferers who are ineligible for local assistance programmes. Those who fall into this group include middle-class cancer patients and those using drugs not covered by government subsidies.

Alan Ng Wai-lun, the foundation’s founder, said he hoped to leverage the power of society to help cancer patients in need.

“With medical advancements, cancer patients are seeing more ways out. But while there is more hope, there are also higher costs because treatment fees go up with the improved services,” said Ng, who is also a cancer survivor.

“While there is government help available for patients, especially those with [lower income], it is not easy to qualify. Those who fail to meet the requirements face a heavy financial burden.”

According to latest Hospital Authority figures, 30,318 people in the city were diagnosed with cancer in 2015.

With medical advancements, cancer patients are seeing more ways out. But while there is more hope, there are also higher costs
Alan Ng,

Ng’s crowdfunding scheme will target local cancer patients who are not eligible to apply for subsidies from two existing government medical assistance programmes, the Community Care Fund and Samaritan Fund.

Cancer patients who hold a Hong Kong permanent ID and with a monthly family income that is not more than twice the city’s median monthly household income – which varies according to family size – can apply to the foundation.

For example, a family of four with a household income that does not exceed HK$82,000 (US$10,400) – which is twice the median mark of HK$41,000 for this group size – qualify for the foundation’s help. The household assets of each applicant should also not be more than HK$800,000.

A panel of six members would assess applications and conduct interviews. Upon approval, the foundation would upload the case profile to an independent crowdfunding platform.

The process takes about three months from the submission of an application to when funds are allocated to the patient, according to Ng.

Ng said his foundation was negotiating with different crowdfunding websites to lower their administrative fees for profile set-ups, which were usually about 5 to 7 per cent of total funds collected.

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He added that one platform even offered not to charge any fee. Ng said the foundation would function not only as a middleman but also as a watchdog to ensure a smooth process.

“The internet is a double-edged sword. While it can serve those in need, there are also people who try to take advantage of this. We will work as a platform to help review cases and increase the credibility of this campaign so patients can get the help they need.”

Doris Chan, whose 62-year-old father was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer last year, said her family was left helpless in the system. As her father’s condition could not be treated by targeted therapy, which was covered by the government, doctors recommended immunotherapy, a newer procedure that was not subsidised.

With a monthly household income of HK$30,000, the family of four spent more than HK$600,000 in the past year on the treatment. “We have used most of our savings and I’m afraid we won’t be able to afford the medication any more. But I only have one dad and I will do whatever I can,” said Chan, who is in her 30s.

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“I feel like we are those who are left out. We can’t apply for any assistance [with this treatment], but we have spent HK$50,000 to HK$60,000 a month.”

Clinical oncologist Dr Stephen Yau, who is also a consultant to the foundation, said he had seen patients who gave up on their treatment because of the financial burden.

“Patients face a lot of pressure, especially financially. We assess them and provide them with optimal treatment plans, which normally would involve the newest drugs since these work best,” Yau said.

“While they may be overjoyed to know there is treatment available, the costs worry them.

“Some drugs do not fall under the government’s safety net and so are not subsidised, and patients forego the treatment because they simply cannot afford it.”

Ng conceded crowdfunding was not a final solution for cancer patients, but said he hoped the scheme could raise more awareness in society about this “severe problem” and ultimately induce more support from members of the public and the government.