Cancer sufferers should not be used as a political football

Labour health spokesperson Annette King, left, with Keytruda campaigner Leisa Renwick and her husband Wayne

Labour health spokesperson Annette King, left, with Keytruda campaigner Leisa Renwick and her husband Wayne

OPINION: How long? It's the calculation terminal cancer patients and their families are constantly doing in their heads.  

Which is why the political point scoring over whether drug buying agency Pharmac should fund melanoma drug Keytruda is so distasteful.

No one is unaffected by the desperation of people who believe they are being denied a life prolonging, or even life-saving, cancer treatment.

But melanoma patients are not alone in the awfulness of their plight. A new generation of drugs offer hope across a range of cancers. But it's not just sufferers who can't afford the often exorbitant price tag. Even taxpayers pockets aren't that deep.

Pharmac is in the invidious position of having to weigh up the benefit of one life saved over another.

It does the best it can by weighing up the science. When the science is over-ruled by naked politics, everyone suffers.

Because for every drug that is funded, another potentially life saving treatment will be denied. Drug companies that put up attractive cheer leaders for their cause will get funded over those whose patients don't carry the same emotional pull. 

No one's hands are clean in the Keytruda row - not Labour's, for coat tailing the plight of vulnerable cancer patients to attack the Government.

Not the drug companies, for which the political heat is useful leverage for driving up the price in their negotiations with Pharmac. 

And not National, for preaching the moral high ground despite creating an uneven playing field in the first place by running similar interference in Opposition over breast cancer drug Herceptin.  

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Even Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Prime Minister John Key have acknowledged the hypocrisy in their stance.

But it's still a case of do as I say, not as I do. Because some seven years later, Herceptin continues to be funded by Pharmac on an extended basis, despite there still being no conclusive evidence that it provides any extra benefit.

National could, of course, direct Pharmac  to review the evidence on Herceptin and - should it be found wanting - free up that money for more compelling treatments.

Perhaps even melanoma drugs.  But it won't do that because the political stakes are too high. And nor would Labour.  In a nutshell that's why drug funding should never be used as a political football.

But that genie is now well and truly out of the bottle.




 - Stuff

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