Parents of children with cancer protested once again on Thursday to denounce long-running drug shortages.
A group of parents blocked the Circuito Interior freeway outside the National Medical Center La Raza in Mexico City for more than six hours from about 10:00 a.m. onwards.
Wearing white t-shirts emblazoned with the message, “Another day without chemo,” the parents rebuked the federal government for shortages they said have lasted for 672 days, or almost two years.
“We’ve gone months without cardioxane,” said María Vargas, referring to a drug used to protect the heart from the toxic side effects of chemotherapy medications.
“When we warned we’d protest, they miraculously administered the medication to our children … but the day after tomorrow there will be a shortage of another drug. We need permanent solutions,” she told the newspaper El Universal.
Aquilina Santos, the mother of a 13-year-old girl with ovarian cancer that has spread to her lungs and lymph nodes, said that her daughter was being treated with carboplatin instead of cisplatin, which was prescribed by her oncologist, due to a shortage of the latter.
“I’m not saying that it harms her, I don’t know, but that’s why I’m protesting,” she said.
Zenaida Ramírez, the mother of a 2-year-old boy with leukemia, said her son’s chemotherapy is sometimes delayed due to a shortage of the drugs he requires.
Abigail Iturio Rodríguez, whose 5-year-old son died from leukemia last week, told the newspaper Reforma that a shortage of drugs forced the cancelation of his scheduled chemotherapy appointments on five or six occasions.
Over the past two years, there have been shortages of mercaptopurine and cyclophosphamide among other cancer drugs, she said, adding that accessing medications for nausea has also been difficult.
Iturio said that she couldn’t be sure that the irregular supply of drugs caused her son’s death but she believes that the lack of continuity in his treatment may have been a factor in the relapse he suffered in early August.
“He was my first and only child. He didn’t want any more jabs, he didn’t want any more pain. He wanted to go to the beach [but] unfortunately we weren’t able to make his dream come true, he left us too soon,” she said.
Iturio said that she joined Thursday’s protest to support other parents of children with cancer because they too could lose their sons and daughters if they don’t receive the treatment they need when they need it.
“My son taught me to fight, to bear everything because he put up with everything,” she said. “He drives me [to fight] so that children aren’t left without chemotherapy. … My son [died], tomorrow it could be more children.”
As Thursday’s protest was taking place, another group of parents met with Zoé Robledo, director of the Mexican Social Security Institute (IMSS), and other government officials.
The institute, a major health care provider, announced late on Thursday that it had reached an agreement with the parents that included the creation of a working group that will meet weekly.
IMSS also said in a statement that it would place a “public platform” online to “monitor the timely delivery … of oncological treatments for pediatric patients treated at the institute.”
Parents have protested life-saving cancer drug shortages on numerous occasions since last year.
The Health Ministry made a commitment in May to end the shortages of several cancer medications that have plagued child cancer patients but more than three months later the problem has not been fully resolved.
In late July, the federal government signed an agreement with the United Nations Office for Project Services to collaborate on the international purchase of medicines, medical supplies and vaccines.
President López Obrador said at the time that the agreement would allow Mexico to obtain high quality medications and equipment all over the world at low prices and thus put an end to shortages.