Exclusive: Soaring Pacific cancer rates prompt bid for drug buying deal with NZ's Pharmac

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1 NEWS

In a desperate bid to combat soaring cancer rates, Pacific leaders are pitching for a deal with Pharmac in New Zealand to bulk buy drugs.

Parts of the Pacific have extremely high rates of stomach, lung, liver and cervical cancer.

A regional group is now negotiating the deal on behalf of the Pacific nations.
Source: 1 NEWS

"What we are seeing unfortunately it is a death sentence for a lot of patients because of high rate of late presentation," said Shelley Burich of the Samoa Cancer Society.

And across the region hospitals struggle with a lack of data, resources and money.

"Over the last five years one of the biggest challenges was access to chemotherapy drugs. Back in 2014 this was a big issue for us because we did lose some children as the drugs were a bit hard to access at the time," said Dr Litara Esera-Tulifau, a paediatrician.

Not just hard to get, cancer drugs are also expensive. So Pacific countries have decided to explore bulk buying.

"The only sensible thing is to approach the subject in the form of many Pacific governments ordering from the same source," said Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoan Prime Minister.

Regional group, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, is negotiating with Pharmac, the New Zealand Government agency which decides which pharmaceuticals to fund here.

"The idea is the island members of the Forum community piggy back off the purchasing power of Pharmac in New Zealand and the equivalent in Australia," said Colin Tukuitonga of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

The Pacific scheme has already had the nod from the New Zealand and Australian prime ministers earlier this year.

"Right now all we've done is an assessment of the need in the islands. We've had some initial contact specifically with Pharmac but we have got a fair way to go," Mr Tukuitonga said.

It's not just drugs that are needed, it's specialist skills.

"I would love to see a proper oncology unit here, cancer unit, with doctors that are trained in oncology. To be able to have treatment here at home is very important to a lot of our families," said Ms Burich of the Samoa Cancer Society.

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