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Women deserve ‘game-changing’ breast cancer medicines

Press Release – Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition

Women marching to Parliament today, to present two petitions calling for Government funding of vital medicines, have 100% support from a coalition representing than 30 breast cancer organisations.Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition

Media release 16 October 2018

Women marching to Parliament today, to present two petitions calling for Government funding of vital medicines, have 100% support from a coalition representing than 30 breast cancer organisations.

Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition (BCAC) chair Libby Burgess says people should not have to go to politicians begging for their lives. “It’s tragic that our vulnerable women have to march on Parliament to call for access to treatments that they would get as a matter of course in other developed countries. All people in New Zealand should have the medicines they need,” she says.

The petitions are for medicines that make a huge difference for women with advanced breast cancer – Ibrance (also known as palbociclib) and Kadcyla (T-DM1). The Ibrance petition has more than 33,400 signatures, and the Kadcyla petition has more than 2,600 signatures. These drugs can add years to women’s lives and dramatically improve quality of life. Many women are mortgaging or selling their homes, going into significant debt or going to other countries to get the drugs.

“We believe New Zealanders are compassionate people. We should not be denying people medicines that give them more time with their families and in their communities, and ease their suffering. We are not a third world country but our medicines funding is heading that way. New Zealand ranks 19th out of 20 OECD countries for access to new medicines and that’s shocking,” Libby says.

A key reason these drugs are not funded is New Zealand’s outdated model for medicines funding which hasn’t kept pace with advances in medicines, particularly those for cancer.

“We believe PHARMAC needs to be entirely reformed so that the focus is firmly on improving people’s lives. It needs to have greater transparency, faster decision making and significantly more funding. PHARMAC currently has a spending cap which comparable countries don’t have, and of 30 OECD countries only Mexico spends less than New Zealand on medicines. Countries like Canada, UK and Australia also have fast access schemes, where decision making is streamlined for drugs with immediate proven benefit,” Libby says.

New Zealand women with advanced breast cancer die sooner than those in comparable countries, with median survival of only 16 months, compared to 2 to 3 years elsewhere. Māori women fare worse than others, with only 5% surviving 5 years compared to 15% of non-Māori women.

Women have been very disappointed with responses from the Minister of Health, Hon Dr David Clark, when they have written to ask that these vital medicines be funded. He has said that he will not act and that PHARMAC’s decisions must be independent. However, the Minister of Health is responsible for obtaining funding for PHARMAC, for monitoring their performance and holding them accountable for it. The damage PHARMAC’s decisions are causing to women and their families is unacceptable.
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