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Government target of campaign to save lives

3 July 2002

Government target of campaign to save lives of cancer patients

A public campaign linked to the General Election started today with a strong sense of urgency, to save the lives of 90 cancer patients for whom the Government has so far refused to fund a life-saving drug called Glivec.

The Leukaemia and Blood Foundation of New Zealand is putting up roadside hoardings in the main centres and running newspaper advertisements urging the public to vote to save the lives of the people with chronic myeloid leukaemia (CML).

People are being asked to send a message to politicians via the website http://www.savethe90.co.nz. The public also have until this Friday (eds: 5 July) to make a submission to Pharmac supporting Glivec funding for the majority of CML patients, who are in the early, and most readily treatable, stage of the disease. Pharmac is proposing to fund the drug only for some people in the advanced stages of the disease, who represent just 15 percent of CML cases each year in New Zealand.

"Quite simply, what Pharmac is proposing means most people will miss out and they are the people who could most benefit," says LBF chairman Doug Strong. He believes Government is focused on the higher cost of Glivec, and not on the fact the drug can save it money through people avoiding the need for other treatments, hospital stays and welfare payments.

Mr Strong says the LBF campaign is unashamedly aimed at making people aware that the Pharmac Board will be making a critical decision on access to Glivec just two days before the election. "Politicians listen a little more closely during an election. Hopefully, common sense will therefore get a better hearing.

We want Pharmac to fund a life-saving treatment for people with both early and advanced CML," Mr Strong said. "The LBF thought the best way of illustrating the problem was simply to have patients explain their own stories to the public. So the campaign features some of the 90 CML patients, whose lives depend on the Pharmac Board decision on July 25."

The campaign starts with hoardings installed near to election candidates' own hoardings, print and radio advertisements, and a website through which people can learn more about CML and the Government's refusal to fund the majority of patients. Through the website people can also send a message to Pharmac and MPs. "CML is a terribly debilitating disease," says Mr Strong. "Most people with it have to give up work.

They end up in wheelchairs, or confined to bed or in nursing homes. The current treatment available to them, interferon, puts one-third of them back into hospital dealing with the side effects.

"In stark contrast, most of the people on Glivec are able to resume their normal lives - which is better for them and their families, and for the economy," Mr Strong said. "It literally can give someone back their life."

Mr Strong says Glivec is the most successful drug yet developed to fight cancer. In early CML, called the chronic phase, 84 per cent of people on Glivec have a major disappearance of cancer cells from their body which, he says, is a huge improvement on the 30 percent response for interferon, which Pharmac currently funds. Sixty-nine per cent have a complete disappearance of cancer cells, compared with 11.5 per cent on interferon.


For further information

Please contact

Mr Jim Hamilton
Executive director, LBF
Tel 09 308 0240
Tel 021 990722

Professional comments:
Peter Browett,
Associate Professor of Haematology in Auckland,
President of Haematological Society and lead NZ investigator into Glivec
for the NZ clinical trials Tel. 025 738 173

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