11 Jun 2016

Melanoma cancer patients 'will no longer be ignored'

1:49 pm on 11 June 2016

A melanoma patient says she and others have had to fight their own government to get access to basic medicine.

Melanoma patient and advocate Kathryn Williams

Melanoma patient and advocate Kathryn Williams Photo: RNZ / Checkpoint

Pharmac has announced it will fund the advanced melanoma drug Opdivo, which will be available for the first time from 1 July.

It will be the first time advanced treatment for metastatic melanoma has been available for public access in New Zealand, and comes after years of lobbying by patients.

Advocate Kathryn Williams, who has advanced melanoma, fought to give patients early access to the drug in May, but was turned down.

Ms Williams said the new funding was "monumental", but cancer patients should never have had to beg for treatment.

"We had some really brave patients who put themselves out in the public domain and told New Zealand their intimate details."

"They gave away all their privacy, and had no idea how long they would survive, or if they'd even survive to see any sort of medicine arrive."

Ms Williams said not only did they have to fight cancer, but they also had to fight their government in a first-world country, just for some cancer medication.

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Photo: 123rf.com

She said New Zealand has the highest melanoma rates in the world, and it was shameful that nothing was done about it for so long.

"The minister of health and the prime minister would have had to have their heads in the sand, to not know that melanoma cancer patients had no funded effective cancer treatments."

She said patients had to take it upon themselves and fight to keep the issue alive.

"Melanoma cancer patients have stood up and said we will no longer be ignored.

"We deserve to receive access to cancer treatment the same as all the other cancer patients."

Ms Williams said she and others will keep fighting to get more funding for melanoma treatments, so that other drugs can be available for patients.

In a statement released on Thursday, Pharmac chief executive Steffan Crausaz said the drugs couldn't be made available before all concerns were addressed.

"There is a balance between providing funded access as early as possible, and ensuring that all issues raised by a wide range of parties are carefully considered and changes made to get the high-quality decisions New Zealanders expect."

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