Saturday, January 5, 2008

Mesothelioma drug listed on PBS

SUFFERERS of the asbestos-linked disease mesothelioma will have access to cheap treatment from today, after a long campaign to secure federal government subsidy paid off.

The government says the chemotherapy agent Alimta - the only treatment available specifically for the killer cancer of the lung or stomach lining - will be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) from today.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the listing of Alimta was an important announcement that followed the "tireless campaigning" of Bernie Banton, who died, aged 61, in November from the disease.

"Bernie was a great Australian hero and it is due to his efforts that many people will understand the significance of this decision," she said.

About 600 Australians are diagnosed annually with mesothelioma, but the long lag time between exposure to asbestos and the onset of symptoms means its prevalence is tipped to rise in the future.

Medical studies have estimated 18,000 people will have become victims of the disease by 2020.

Alimta, which can increase survival time and improve a sufferer's quality of life, has been out of reach for many patients at $20,000 or more for six treatments.

From today, sufferers will pay a maximum of $31.30 for each prescription. Eligible concession-patients will pay $5 for each prescription.

The subsidy will cost the government about $26 million annually and is expected to benefit about 300 people a year.

The listing of the drug became an election issue after Mr Banton criticised then health minister Tony Abbott for failing to personally receive a 17,000-signature petition brought to his Sydney electoral office in October.

Mr Abbott was forced into an embarrassing apology after questioning whether the dying campaigner's motives for speaking out were "pure of heart".

A week later, a government-appointed board recommended the drug be added to the PBS after three times rejecting its listing since 2004.

Mr Abbott bypassed the normal process of cabinet approval by immediately announcing the drug's listing.

Until now, only about half of Australians suffering mesothelioma were getting easy access to the palliative care drug through state government subsidy and workplace compensation schemes.


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