Since Mexico began covering breast cancer treatment for women who could not otherwise afford it, thousands of Mexican women have been diagnosed and treated on time, surviving the disease.
Mexico City, March 2014 (PAHO/WHO) – When Martha Alida Solórzano was first diagnosed with breast cancer, her reaction was anguish. But the sociologist and author of several books quickly turned her worry into diligence, searching the Web for information on the disease, her prospects, and how she should face this new challenge.
When she told the private doctor she had been seeing that she could no longer afford to pay him, he suggested she go to the National Cancer Institute (INCAN), which has been providing free treatment for breast cancer to all Mexican women who need it since 2007.
“The cancer care is excellent, and the doctors are very competent,” said Solórzano. “I’ve been fortunate to have access to their services.” She has not paid a single peso for INCAN ‘scare.
The comprehensive treatment Solórzano has received is the direct result of Mexico’s national insurance program known as Seguro Popular (“Popular Insurance”), launched in 2003. The program guarantees access to an integrated package of health services to more than 50 million Mexicans—nearly half the population—who did not already have coverage under the country’s social security system.
“Seguro Popular helps me a lot because it covers a lot of services that I would not be able to pay for,” said Solórzano. “The medication is very expensive, and it’s a major help.”
Advancing toward universal coverage
In 2007, breast and cervical cancer were incorporated into Seguro Popular, followed soon by non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, testicular and prostate cancer, and bone marrow transplants. For children under 18, all tumors and neoplasms are covered.
Seguro Popular has taken Mexico a huge step forward in its efforts to reach universal health coverage, that is, to ensure social protection in health to the entire population regardless of employment status or ability to pay.
“Before Seguro Popular, people received care as a form of welfare, but now they know explicitly what they have a right to through the catalog of health services and the list of funds for catastrophic expenses,” said Secretary of Health Mercedes Juan.
Juan Enrique Bargalló, head of the Department of Breast Tumors at INCAN, said that before Seguro Popular, one in three breast cancer patients dropped out of treatment for lack of economic resources. “Today only about 1% of our patients abandons treatment and for reasons that have nothing to do with cost,” he said. In all, some 25,000 new breast cancer cases are diagnosed in Mexico each year.
Secretary of Health Mercedes Juan noted that Mexico’s national health budget quintupled over 10 years and that the challenge for the new system—which has achieved nearly universal affiliation—is to guarantee “effective access to timely and quality services.”
Universal health coverage “is the road to take if we want everyone to have access to the health services they need, with quality and without fear of not being able to pay for treatment that can save their lives,” said the Director of the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO), Carissa F. Etienne. “There is no single path” to achieve universal coverage, “but each country can do something to advance” toward this goal, she said, noting that PAHO/WHO is working with its member countries to advance universal coverage.
Treat the body, heal the soul
Martha Solórzano said that while INCAN treats the body, its Center for Support of Integrated Care cures the soul. Known by patients as La Casita, the center allows patients to participate in free cancer discussions, recreational activities, and psychological support sessions. “Sometimes you think you can handle it alone, but that’s not true. With this disease, you cannot do it alone,” said Solórzano.
Solórzano acknowledges that her life has changed radically since her diagnosis. “Surgery was very difficult. At work, the rhythm is not the same, now my priority is my health,” she said. Now her goal is “to live day to day, one day at a time.”
- “The care we need” (video on Seguro
Popular and breast cancer care in Mexico)
- Interview with Secretary of Health of
Mexico Mercedes Juan
- “Confessions,” Martha Alida Solórzano (in Spanish)
- Center for Support of Integrated Care (in Spanish)