When diagnosed with cancer or any serious disease, individuals experience a slate of emotions. They feel overwhelmed, helpless, angry, scared, worried and lonely. Depending on where they live and their specific access to medical care, survival may top their list of hopes. Medical treatment disparities exist for patients living in high-income countries versus those residing in low-income nations. For the latter, that can mean a decline in quality of life for the patient and sometimes spell a death sentence.
At 41 years of age Nazlin, who lives in Malaysia, received a lymphoma cancer diagnosis. His immediate reaction was concern for his three children and what would happen to them if he didn’t survive. The money his wife made as a rubber tapper couldn’t support the four of them.
When Najair, a four-year-old child in Jamaica, was diagnosed with cancer, his mother was terrified. She knew she couldn’t afford the treatment he needed.
Although treatment existed for both Nazlin and Najair, it wasn’t obtainable in the countries where they lived. Until The Max Foundation stepped into help. Now more than 100,000 patients have accessed medical care and medication that wasn’t available before.
“Many of those survivors have dedicated their lives to giving back to their communities and providing services to cancer patients,” says Pat Garcia-Gonzalez, CEO and co-founder of The Max Foundation. “These patients have formed local patient organizations like Touched by Max in the Philippines, which is led by the father of a cancer survivor, Max Family Society in Malaysia and Max Vie in Vietnam.”
While an estimated 60% of global cancer cases occur in low- and middle-income countries, only 5% of global spending on cancer is directed to these countries, according to a recent study. Opening access to treatment has the potential to save thousands of lives today and in years to come.
Creating a network to provide that access has been the work of The Max Foundation, named after Garcia-Gonzalez’s stepson. At the age of 14, Max was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia. Their family had to emigrate from their home country of Argentina to the U.S. for Max to receive the necessary treatment. After a three-year battle with the disease, he passed away. He did have access to the treatment he needed, but many patients do not.
Sourcing and delivering medications to patients around the world at no cost makes the Foundation’s flagship program, Max Access Solutions, unique, Garcia-Gonzalez says. These prescriptions go to serious disease sufferers for which the medication exists but isn’t available in their home country. Working in partnership with the treating physician, the Max team sources the prescriptions from international manufacturers that provide in-kind donations and then Max ships it to the patient.
“We currently serve over 30,000 patients in more than 70 low- and middle-income countries,” notes Emily Muirhead, development officer for the Foundation. “Our aim is to see that each required daily dose of medicine reaches the intended patient at the right time, while also strengthening the local health care system.”
Max currently provides treatment for a total of 10 different diseases, with a goal of doubling that number to 20 by the end of 2026. Diseases like chronic myeloid leukemia, gastrointestinal stromal tumor and renal cell carcinoma often have multiple options for treatment, but those treatments are not available in all parts of the world. Getting access to them gives patients new hope.
Garcia-Gonzalez says today The Max Foundation can provide access to any treatment that exists for the type of leukemia Max had. The foundation also plans to add breast cancer treatment in their portfolio in 2023.
“We are the first organization that has been able to show that it’s possible to successfully treat cancer in low-income countries,” Garcia-Gonzalez says.
The Max Foundation is a global health nonprofit organization that believes in a world where all people can access high impact medicines, where geography is not destiny and where everyone can strive for health with dignity and with hope.