New Zealand ranks last in OECD for medicine access

New Zealand has been ranked last in the OECD for access to medicine.

A report by US healthcare multinational IQVIA analysed public funding for eight priority therapy areas (arthritis, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular, diabetes, hepatitis C, rare diseases, mental health as well as 'other') between 2011 and 2017 across 20 OECD nations.

Of those 20, New Zealand came in dead last.

The report found New Zealand takes twice as long to publicly fund medicine compared to other OECD countries. During the period of analysis, it took New Zealand an average of 512 days to publicly fund a medication, compared with the 233-day average of the 19 other countries.

New Zealand also had the lowest number of publicly funded medicines in the OECD, with all other countries having between three and 10 times more publicly funded medicines than us.

Patient Voice Aotearoa (PVA), a new charitable advocacy group, says the IQVIA's report confirms pre-existing research that Kiwi patients are being denied medicines that are easily available to people in the rest of the OECD. 

"We have fallen well behind the rest of the first world and it is beyond belief that treatment for conditions that affect countless New Zealanders – such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and mental health – are not being funded," PVA chair Malcolm Mulholland said in a statement.

Of the 304 modern medicines included in the report, just 17 were funded by Pharmac. There are no publicly funded medicines to treat arthritis, cardiovascular illness, diabetes, rare disease or mental illness. 

Pharmac's lack of funding for life-saving cancer medicines has recently come under fire, and the IQVIA's report says only six cancer medicines are publicly funded at present.

"It's a bitter pill to swallow," says Mulholland, whose wife Wiki has stage 4 breast cancer and needs the unfunded drug Ibrance to survive, at a personal cost of $5800 per month.

He says Pharmac's recent decision to fund the medicines Kadcyla, Alectinib and Ocrelizumb is a welcome one, but it took far too long.

"The time for increased funding for Pharmac, and reform of the Pharmac model, is well overdue. If this doesn't happen, New Zealanders will continue to needlessly suffer and die."