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Dyson: Increasing Knowledge Of Multiple Sclerosis

Innovative Work To Increase Knowledge And Understanding Of Multiple Sclerosis

7 August 2006
Grand Hall, Parliament, Wellington

Rau rangatira maa,
tenei te mihi ki a koutou i runga i te kaupapa o te ra.
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena koutou katoa.

[Distinguished guests, greetings to you gathered here for this purpose today. Greetings once, twice, three times to you all.]

Good evening and welcome. It's great to see you all here for this announcement of the results from the first twelve months of the national Multiple Sclerosis Prevalence Study.

I would particularly like to welcome Professor Bruce Taylor and his team who have travelled up from Christchurch to share their work with us today Congratulations to you all on your excellent work so far and I wish you continued success with your research. This is a ground-breaking study, the first ever anywhere in the world to examine the prevalence of Multiple Sclerosis across a whole country.

I also welcome staff and Board members from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand, and the President of the Board, Gay Dickie, and representatives from the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Guests from elsewhere include staff from Multiple Sclerosis Australia. It is wonderful to have you here and an indication that the significance and interest in this research extends beyond New Zealand. Welcome to this launch.

Multiple sclerosis is one of the most common debilitating neurological diseases in young people in New Zealand. Its causes are unknown and as yet there is no cure. It is believed to be the result of a complex combination of environmental, genetic and auto-immune factors. It usually strikes without warning and affects people in a variety of ways.

While MS can be very debilitating, most people with the disease are able to lead a fairly normal life and continue to be actively involved in their community. One of the benefits of this study will be continuing the work of removing barriers for people with impairments.

Something which many New Zealanders may not be aware of is that one in five of the population identify as having a long-term impairment. A vital move for New Zealand to become a more inclusive society is to increase the awareness of this fact among the general population. All New Zealanders need to consider issues and concerns for people with impairments and disabilities, and those that relate to their families and whanau, and all others who support them.

As the Minister for Disability Issues, I am proud to say that the government is committed to achieving full inclusion. The New Zealand Disability Strategy, published in 2001, aims to eliminate the barriers that prevent New Zealanders with disabilities from reaching their full potential or participating fully in the community. Under the social model expressed in this Strategy, disability is not something individuals have. Disability is the process which happens when one group of people create barriers by designing a world only for their way of living, taking no account of the impairments other people have.

The New Zealand Disability Strategy is working towards a society that values the lives of people with impairments, and continually enhances their full participation. Many of this Strategy's 15 objectives have relevance to people with Multiple Sclerosis, particularly Objective 2, which is to uphold and protect the rights of people with disabilities, and Objective 10, which is to collect and use relevant information about people with disabilities and disability issues.

A huge help in achieving this objective is if we have accurate records on which to organise disability services and support. The examination of the levels of disability experienced by those with MS is one reason why this study is so important.

Another is, of course, measuring the prevalence of MS in New Zealand, which has not occurred for twenty years. Having an accurate measure of the prevalence of MS will significantly assist in the planning and provision of resources and services.

In the meantime, this government is conscious of making sure that people with MS in New Zealand have access to the best treatments and support services available.

On the first of December last year two very important changes to the funding of treatments for MS came into effect. The first was the full funding of a third MS drug, with the brand name Copaxone. This change gives MS patients greater choice in their treatment options, particularly as Copaxone displays different side effects to the existing treatments. The second change was a lowering of the access criteria for all three subsidised drugs, helping those with MS to gain access to treatment at an earlier stage of their disease. Although these drugs will not cure MS, they can help slow the progression of the disease.

Objective 7 of the New Zealand Disability Strategy will also be of particular interest to people experiencing the effects of Multiple Sclerosis. This objective is to create a quality assessment and service delivery system that is centred on people with disabilities, ensures their participation in assessment and service delivery, and is easy to access.

To address issues of support, a new project team in the Office for Disability Issues is leading a review of long-term disability supports. Because these supports are funded by ten different government departments, a co-ordinated approach is needed to ensure we get enduring and effective policy solutions.

More generally, I believe that this Labour-led government has proven its commitment to improving the health of all New Zealanders through consistent investment over seven consecutive budgets. In this year's Budget, an additional
3 billion dollars over four years was set aside for health.

Five years on from the launch of the New Zealand Disability Strategy, we have made great strides in becoming more responsive to disability issues. Of course there is always more to be done to maximise health and independence, and studies such as this are invaluable in highlighting areas for further improvement.

This study will provide valuable research into the possible links between MS and factors such as latitude, exposure to the sun and ethnicity.
A greater understanding of these genetic and environmental factors may then help researchers find better treatments, strategies for prevention, or even a cure.

I would like to end by congratulating the Health Research Council of New Zealand and the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand for their initiative in forming this ground-breaking partnership to fund the study. The Society continues to be a tireless advocate of MS issues and this is but another example of it actively encouraging medical research into MS.

I share your hopes for a better future for all people with MS and hope that today's launch helps to raise awareness of both Multiple Sclerosis and the study as it continues into its second stage. I know that both the Ministry of Health and the Office for Disability Issues await the final outcome of the study with great interest.

Thank you.


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