Women march on Parliament for funding of breast cancer medicines

Author
Newstalk ZB, NZ Herald,
Section
Audio,
Publish Date
Tuesday, 16 October 2018, 6:21p.m.
Some of those who turn up to the protest carried loved ones lost to breast cancer. (Photo / Melissa Nightingale)
Some of those who turn up to the protest carried loved ones lost to breast cancer. (Photo / Melissa Nightingale)

LISTEN TO TERRE NICHOLSON TALK WITH ANDREW DICKENS ABOVE

Breast cancer marchers have gathered silently outside Parliament.

About 200 people are at the march, many holding signs reading "PHARMAC, cough up" and "our lives matter".

One teenager is holding a sign that reads "Please save my mum", as a woman stands next to her with a hand on her shoulder.

People are carrying framed photos of loved ones, and a small bouquet of flowers has been laid on the steps to Parliament, with a sign that reads "In loving memory of the 155 lives needlessly lost in 2018".

One woman's sign says "prolonging my life is more important than prolonging an erection".

The group of women with advanced breast cancer and their supporters marched on Parliament to present petitions calling for funding of life-extending medicines.

Addressing those gathered, Terre Nicholson said women were having to fundraise for medicines so they could live long enough for their toddlers to remember who they are.

"Sadly a year from now, a lot of us probably won't be here," she said.

"Our story's not finished so don't write us off."

Nicholson, who has cancer, told Andrew Dickens the drugs are new here - but is already funded in many other countries.

"In the US, it was approved in 2015 for fast track approval because it was considered inhumane and a violation of human rights to deny it as it worked so well."

Fellow petition organiser Sue Wall-Cade said New Zealanders needed Labour to live up to its election promises.

"We don't understand how a drug can cost $39 in Australia and yet in New Zealand we have to pay $10,000 a month ... we are dying to live, we are not living to die."

National spokesman for health Michael Woodhouse accepted the petition, and told those gathered the time for funding was now.

He said the petition, which has grown to more than 33,000 signatures, was a "clear signal" that this was an important issue.

MP Louisa Wall also addressed the crowd, thanking them for providing politicians with an opportunity to act.

"I want to acknowledge that there are people here today that are actually part of creating a legacy that may be long beyond yourself.

The lack of funding for cancer medicines Ibrance and Kadcyla - hailed as game changers for women with advanced breast cancer - has been labelled "the height of cruelty" by Breast Cancer Foundation NZ's chief executive Evangelia Henderson.

The medicines are said to extend lives by years.

"Why do people have to set up a Givealittle page, or worse, sell their house, to access these drugs?" Henderson said.

Henderson said she couldn't imagine the distress felt by women faced with having to fund the drugs themselves at the expense of their own family's future.

"This is an opportunity to have a longer life, yet it's out of reach for our women. The fact that game-changing drugs exist, yet are not available, is the height of cruelty.

"And the fact that some people can pay for their own drugs while others can't, widens the disparity within New Zealand.

"Meanwhile, the gap between Kiwi women's survival with advanced breast cancer and that of women with advanced breast cancer overseas remains shocking. As our ABC report "I'm still here" identified, average survival in New Zealand is just 16 months, compared with two to three years or more in countries like Australia, Germany and France.

"This has to change. Not next year, not tomorrow, but right now. Funding these drugs is the only humane thing to do."

The women marching on Parliament today will be delivering a 32,000-signature petition calling for Ibrance to be funded, and a second petition to fund Kadcyla.

Petition organiser Terre Nicholson said women around the country were dying early, "losing precious time they could spend with their families and to prepare their little ones for being without their mother".

The women behind the march are known as Metavivors.

They have the support of the Breast Cancer Aotearoa Coalition, which represents more than 30 breast cancer organisations.

Chairwoman Libby Burgess said people should not have to go to politicians begging for their lives.

"It's tragic that our vulnerable women have to march on Parliament to call for access to treatments that they would get as a matter of course in other developed countries. All people in New Zealand should have the medicines they need," she said.

"We believe New Zealanders are compassionate people. We should not be denying people medicines that give them more time with their families and in their communities, and ease their suffering.

"We are not a third world country but our medicines funding is heading that way. New Zealand ranks 19th out of 20 OECD countries for access to new medicines and that's shocking."

A key reason these drugs are not funded is New Zealand's outdated model for medicines funding, which hasn't kept pace with advances in medicines, she said.

"We believe Pharmac needs to be entirely reformed so that the focus is firmly on improving people's lives. It needs to have greater transparency, faster decision making and significantly more funding.

"Pharmac currently has a spending cap which comparable countries don't have, and of 30 OECD countries only Mexico spends less than New Zealand on medicines. Countries like Canada, UK and Australia also have fast access schemes, where decision making is streamlined for drugs with immediate proven benefit."

 

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