Policy announcement to fund cancer medicines a game-changer for melanoma patients in New Zealand

Aug 22, 2023 | News

Melanoma New Zealand is welcoming National’s policy announcement to fund 13 essential cancer medicines, saying it is a much-needed lifeline and will improve patient outcomes for thousands of New Zealanders.

“For too long New Zealand has been winning the race that no one wants to win…. the worst incidence and death rates of melanoma in the world,” says Melanoma New Zealand Chief Executive Andrea Newland.    

“The advancement in treatments available to melanoma patients in the last 10 years has been extraordinary. Yet, New Zealanders have not been able to benefit from these advances to the same extent as melanoma patients in many OECD countries because these treatments remain unfunded and financially out of reach for many New Zealanders.”  

“A significant proportion of New Zealanders diagnosed with melanoma each year have advanced disease and require drug treatment in addition to surgery, in line with international standards of care,” said Ms Newland. “Right now, unless they are willing to pay for the treatment themselves, find a way to raise the money from family, friends, and their community, or go overseas, these patients have no access to these lifesaving and life-extending funded treatments.  

“Yesterday’s announcement marks a significant step forward in addressing the needs of melanoma patients who have been desperate for increased funding for these essential treatments for a long time,” said Ms Newland.   

The melanoma treatments being funded under this policy are:  

  • Nivolumab or pembrolizumab (adjuvant)   
  • Dabrafenib with trametinib (adjuvant)   
  • BRAF/MEK inhibitors for melanoma (unresectable)   

Melanoma patient Ben McGaffney is currently in Australia where he has recently finished his treatment with a cancer medicine which would be funded in New Zealand under this policy.  

“The whole process of leaving New Zealand was challenging and very rushed. All our family helped, but it was tough. I feel incredibly blessed that I could have my treatment in Australia, unlike so many other kiwis who are in my situation and have to raise huge amounts of money to be treated.  Lives hang in the balance based on whether or not you are eligible to receive funded treatment or can afford to pay for it,” said Ben. 

Ms Newland adds, “Around 300 New Zealanders die each year from melanoma, underscoring the urgency of improving treatment access and outcomes.  

“While we welcome this positive step towards better melanoma care, we also urge all political parties to take urgent action in addressing the needs of cancer patients across the board who deserve world-class healthcare to improve their quality of life and increase their chances of survival.   

“We acknowledge the work Te Aho o Te Kahu, Cancer Control Agency for its report that highlighted the cancer medicine gap, and which underpins this policy initiative,” she said.  

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