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Call for funding for vision-saving drug

Media Release from the NZ Branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO)

New Zealand Ophthalmologists call for funding for vision-saving drug

New Zealand Ophthalmologists (eye doctors) have repeated their call for government funding of a drug which treats the leading cause of blindness.

Ranibizumab (brand-name Lucentis®) can prevent vision loss from wet macular degeneration. It is funded in Australia, Canada, the US and Britain, but not in New Zealand, said Dr Iain Dunlop, President of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), in his address to the New Zealand Branch of RANZCO’s annual meeting in Christchurch.

Auckland Ophthalmologist, Dr Dianne Sharp, outlined a compelling health economic case for government funding of Lucentis®.

“Neovascular macular degeneration affects 15,000 New Zealanders and is the leading cause of blindness,” Dr Sharp explained. “Previous treatments have only been able to limit the severity of vision loss in some patients with this condition. A number of high-quality international trials have shown that treatment with Lucentis® may not only prevent vision loss, but actually improve vision in those treated."

Dr Sharp identified the impact on the overall health budget of not funding this vision-saving drug. The cost of legal blindness in well documented population studies is estimated at $21,000 per person per year. The cost of treatment of injuries related to falls and the need for residential care more than outweigh the cost of treating macular degeneration.

“Pharmac has suggested that the already over-burdened public hospital clinics should carry the load of treating these patients (and pay for the drug), but treatment with Lucentis® can be given in an ophthalmic doctor’s rooms and doesn’t require attendance at a hospital,” Dr Sharp said.

RANZCO notes that Pharmac did not even ask its ophthalmic specialist subcommittee for an opinion on funding Lucentis. The New Zealand Ophthalmologists are now requesting that Pharmac’s Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee formally consult with them so that the evidence can be properly scrutinised.


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