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New Zealand falling behind rest of world in cancer treatment


The management of New Zealand’s most common blood cancer, myeloma, is falling behind the rest of the world, putting lives at unnecessary risk of this incurable but treatable disease.

This is a concerning finding of the Burden of Multiple Myeloma economics report released today by Myeloma New Zealand, who are calling for improved access to best-practice treatment options for the estimated 2,500 New Zealanders living with myeloma.

According to Dr Ken Romeril, clinical haematologist and Chief Executive, Myeloma New Zealand, more needs to be done to ensure New Zealanders living with myeloma receive the same access to innovative myeloma treatments already available in other counties.

“Although there have been great advances in the treatment of this complex disease in recent years, New Zealand still has relatively limited access to options in frontline, maintenance, and relapsed myeloma treatment, creating a high unmet need in this country.

“With the publication of the Burden of Multiple Myeloma report, we are hoping to accelerate public funding and remove existing restrictions on proven innovative treatments for myeloma in accordance with international guidelines,” said Dr Romeril.

“We need to do better for people with myeloma. We are committed to working constructively with the Government to find workable, affordable ways to make these treatments available to New Zealanders.”

Not to be confused with the skin cancer melanoma, myeloma is a type of blood cancer affecting plasma cells typically found in bone marrow. Common symptoms include bone pain, bone fractures, anaemia, kidney damage and frequent or recurrent infections such as bacterial pneumonia and shingles.

Myeloma is one of New Zealand’s most common blood cancers, resulting in approximately 400 new cases and 180 deaths each year, with the highest rates among Māori and Pasifika communities.

The Burden of Multiple Myeloma report was led by Associate Professor Richard Milne, who says improving the management of myeloma in New Zealand will reduce the current economic burden on the healthcare system.

“The Burden of Multiple Myeloma report reveals myeloma is costing the country $46.3 million a year. Besides the direct costs incurred by the healthcare system, myeloma and its comorbidities are also associated with indirect costs such as loss of productivity, loss of income by affected families, increase in taxpayer-funded benefits and loss of tax revenue to the Government.

“However, reducing the burden of this devastating disease is both essential and achievable.

“With a raft of novel myeloma treatments already registered abroad, and others in late stages of development, our policymakers need to ensure New Zealanders living with myeloma receive treatment in line with international best practice,” says Associate Professor Milne.

“Greater gains in quality of life and overall survival could be achieved with the availability of new myeloma treatment options.

“The Pharmaceutical Management Agency in New Zealand, Pharmac, is currently considering several new therapies for the treatment of myeloma,” Associate Professor Milne says.

In addition to the The Burden of Multiple Myeloma report released today, Myeloma New Zealand is releasing a report summary and Patients’ Perspectives report. This series provides valuable insights into what life is like with myeloma, and how the quality of life of New Zealander’s living with this disease can be enhanced.

“There is great opportunity to improve New Zealand survival rates, thanks to a surge in research and the development of new myeloma treatments over the past couple of decades,” says Dr Romeril.

“We hope that in the not too distant future, myeloma patients will be living well, with a good quality of life, and their illness managed as a chronic disease rather than a fatal one.”

For more information about myeloma, or to request copies of the reports, head to www.multiplemyeloma.org.nz

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