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Pressure On For Anti-Alzheimer Drug Funding

October 24, 2001


A strong call to pressure Government to subsidise anti-Alzheimer’s medication in New Zealand came from a symposium on Alzheimer’s Disease held in Christchurch today.

Lack of access to anti-Alzheimer’s medication in New Zealand was described as ‘appalling’ by visiting speaker, Dr Gerard Byrne, Psychiatry Department Head at the University of Queensland.

Two anti-Alzheimer’s medications are subsidised in Australia with a third to be available from November this year.

Access to anti-Alzheimer’s drugs in New Zealand has not been treated with the same equity given to non-curative drugs for other conditions such as cancer, Dr Byrne says.

There are huge advantages associated with the drugs, which in some cases can delay the progression of the disease for up to three years, he says.

While he spelt out the economic savings associated with ant-Alzheimer’s medications, Dr Byrne said other stronger factors had to be considered.

“A few extra years of improved quality of life is priceless not only to the person taking the medication, but to family members as well.’

The cost of medical care is relatively small at around $260 a month per patient compared with the huge cost of care, Dr Byrne says.

Alzheimers New Zealand National Director, Elizabeth Chesterman, told the symposium, the organisation was finding an increasing number of people with dementia and their families speaking out on the difficulties they faced in obtaining and funding the medication they required.

Alzheimers New Zealand wrote to PHARMAC earlier this year in support of cholinesterase inhibitors being placed on the subsidised Pharmaceutical Schedule.

“To date, we have received no reply,” Elizabeth Chesterman said.

Medical specialists at the symposium spoke of being unable to communicate with PHARMAC and a member of the Expert Advisory Group for Health of Older people, Dr Margaret Guthrie, said the agency worked in isolation and did not consult with medical specialists involved.

Auckland based Consultant in Psychiatry of Old Age, Dr Gavin Pilkington, said it was time to ‘get politically smart’.

“There are currently around 34,000 people in New Zealand suffering from Alzheimer’s. Their families members would be triple that number. We have to enlist their support to make this a political issue. “

Many national Alzheimers organisations have supported the subsidised pharmaceutical industry with considerable success in demanding a better deal for dementia patients, Elisabeth Chesterman says.

“Treatment gave many people extra and precious time together. That is all Alzheimers New Zealand asks – the opportunity for New Zealanders with mild to moderate dementia to be offered treatment that may delay the onset of the disease to give them quality time.

“It is unfair that so many are being denied that opportunity.”

An Ashburton woman, whose parents both have Alzheimer’s and a Whangarei couple coping daily with the disease, brought the human aspect of Alzheimers to the symposium by sharing their experiences.


Ends

Released on behalf of Royal Australia and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists - The Faculty of Psychiatry of Old Age and Alzheimers New Zealand.


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