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The Price of Life - Update

Sat 24 Jan 2004 In: HIV

While Australians are getting the latest HIV treatment drugs, New Zealanders are getting AIDS, says the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. The time being taken by Pharmac to approve new HIV drugs for use is soon going to start costing lives. Matt Whyte is one of around fifty New Zealanders who need these drugs, but for him it may already be too late. He is currently in hospital. "It is against all sense of fairness that there are those who are forced to use their own funds to stay alive and those who do not have this choice, are facing their death," says the NZ AIDS Foundation's Executive Director, Rachael LeMesurier. One person in that situation is Jonathan Smith. He was forced to change drug regimes in January 2003 after it became clear his present HIV treatment was not working. Unfortunately, the side effects of the new combination were so horrific that he decided to stop taking them. "[It was] against the advice of my specialist, [but] I was so ill that I could not function," he says. In December 2003, Jonathan was told after receiving the results from a blood test - viral load and T4 - that he must go back onto drugs immediately. There were two options; the one with the horrific side effects, or a second combination which included Kaletra, one of the drugs not currently funded under our health system. Jonathan had the choice of moving to Australia or England, or paying for the Kaletra himself - at a cost of $1250 per month. He decided to stay in New Zealand and use his savings to pay for the drugs. "I can only fund this drug for another 6 months," he says. "Whether the drugs are working or not I don't know as my next blood test is not until the end of February. So, I might have thrown $2500 down the drain but when your life is at stake, what's $2500 especially when there are some HIV+ people that don't even have the chance to try as the price of these drugs and beyond their means." The soonest that New Zealanders may be able to access some of the same drugs as Australia is mid-July, and even then that is only for one of three new treatments. "NZAF has been worried for some time about the lack of government planning to ensure new HIV drugs are moving through the PHARMAC system as it can take up to 33 months from registration to full funding," says Rachel LeMesurier. "Now we are seeing the consequences. People are being divided into the 'haves' and the 'have nots' as they struggle to find private funds for their medications to stay alive. Is this the society we want?" Chris Banks - 24th January 2004    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Saturday, 24th January 2004 - 12:00pm

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