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Hon Annette King - Re: Beta-Interferon

Media Release
Minister of Health

Hon Annette King

EMBARGOED SUNDAY DECEMBER 26

Re Beta-Interferon

Health Minister Annette King has directed the Health Funding Authority to instruct the board of Pharmac to fund the beta-interferon drugs for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

Her decision brings to a successful end a long campaign by sufferers of the disease and the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Mrs King said today, "We made this pledge during the election campaign, and it was a decision supported by the health select committee which heard compelling evidence that the previous Government took little notice of.

"Multiple sclerosis is a disease with little or no treatment possible, and the Government wants to do what it can to help sufferers who can benefit from this drug treatment.

"Until this decision, New Zealand was one of only two countries in the world mean enough not to fund those drugs."

Mrs King said criteria for eligibility for beta-interferon has been developed in direct consultation with leading New Zealand neurologists who specialise in the management of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease of the nervous system that impairs the flow of messages from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body.

The disease causes sufferers to go through bouts of becoming worse or better, and while there is no cure, clinical trials have shown beta-interferon drugs can help reduce the number of relapses in some patients by about 30 percent a year, and the rate of severe attacks by about 50 percent.

For patients whose disease has caused ongoing progression of disability (the secondary progressive form of MS), beta-interferon delays progression by about 50 percent, meaning the drugs may prolong the time between when a person is diagnosed with MS and becomes quite disabled.

Mrs King said perhaps up to 130 New Zealanders could be helped by the new subsidy.

Some New Zealanders already paid for the drugs themselves, but their eligibility for access to the subsidy would be no higher or lower than any other patient, Mrs King said.

ENDS

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