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Cancer medicines need to be part of the plan

BCAC is extremely disappointed to read that access to cancer medicines does not appear to be a priority for New Zealand’s new cancer control agency according to its national director, Diana Sarfati, in a recent interview.

‘The new cancer agency represents a great opportunity to improve cancer care and outcomes, and it should have people at its heart’, says BCAC Chair Libby Burgess. ‘We are hoping that it will be an inclusive organisation that values the wisdom and contributions of New Zealanders with lived experience of cancer’.

Medical oncology is a vital component in the treatment of the vast majority of diagnosed cancers. For example, breast cancer specialists have stated that medicines play a central role in curing early breast cancer and substantially prolonging life and improving quality of life in advanced breast cancer. ‘That the agency’s director does not consider cancer medicines to be a high priority is alarming’, says Libby.

While everyone agrees that cancer prevention is the ideal, it’s just not possible for many types of cancer, and it does nothing for the thousands of New Zealanders who are already living with advanced cancer. ‘They just want access to the proven life-extending medicines that are available in other countries. It will be disappointing if this new agency, in which we all have high hopes, doesn’t deliver improvements across the entire cancer pathway, including to those who already have cancer.’

‘Diana Sarfati’s comment that it is hard to tell the difference between ‘over-hyped treatments and genuine breakthroughs’ is simply wrong’, says Libby. ‘New Zealand patients with advanced cancer are only asking for access to the medicines their oncologists recommend. These medicines have been shown to be effective in rigorous clinical trials and are the standard of care in other countries. I’m surprised that Dr Sarfati is not aware of this’, she says. ‘No-one is asking for unproven treatments.’

‘It is worrying that the new agency’s director appears to believe that New Zealand’s position as last of 20 OECD countries for access to new medicines is acceptable. We were hoping the agency would be aspirational in getting modern treatments to New Zealand patients’, says Libby. ‘Our medicines budget is woefully inadequate – New Zealand spends just $212 per capita on medicines, compared to $466 in Australia and the OECD average of $951. We are not a poor country. New Zealanders should not have to put up with severe rationing when it comes to cancer treatments.’

BCAC encourages all New Zealanders to sign the Patient Voice Aotearoa petition calling for doubling of the medicines budget and reform of PHARMAC.


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