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Osteoporosis New Zealand Inc

Osteoporosis on the Health Agenda in Election Year

The meeting delegates were joined by politicians from five politcal parties, for a lively debate on improving access to both diagnosis and management of osteoporosis.

Julia Gallagher, Executive Manager of Osteoporosis New Zealand, criticised government’s inadequate measures to address the serious injury, pain and suffering caused by osteoporosis. She said that while there is no co-ordinated national policy on availability of bone density scans and no requirement of District Health Boards (DHB's) to provide bone density scans for the 380,000 people in New Zealand with osteoporosis, the older population are at serious risk of bone fractures. Many DHB’s have to purchase bone density scans on an as required basis from the private sector as they do not have bone density machines.

The most effective treatment – alendronate is only available to people who have broken a bone and a T-score lower than -3.0, diagnosed with a DEXA scan. To get the publicly funded drug individuals must first purchase a DEXA scan from the private sector.

However, all political parties recognised that osteoporosis is a major health issue, the Hon. Peter Dunne, Leader of the United Future Party stated that a national osteoporosis screening programme was included in their Health Policy and had been so for over three years. He said, “United Future is committed to providing people over 65 years with health checks every two years, this allows for risk factors for a number of diseases and conditions to be identified early, enables treatment to start and the progress of disease to be halted earlier.”

Dr Paul Hutchison, health spokesperson for the National Party said that National’s health policy concentrates on getting the fundamentals right and encouraging strong public and private sectors working together. He indicated that osteoporosis was very much a part of National health agenda, with their ‘whole of life’ approach to health. Dr Hutchison has called for a review of Pharmac, ta move supported by Mr Peter Dunne of United Future.

Mrs Gallagher commented, “The level of support shown by the political parties is encouraging. However, when only 15-20% of people with osteoporosis are actually able to access bone scans, it is action, not words that makes the difference. We want every political party to commit to making bone scans free to every one over 65 years with risk factors.”

Pharmac’s restrictive policies on access to osteoporosis medications came under attack, Pharmac have not acted on recommendations by the osteoporosis subcommittee of PTAC (Pharmacology and Therapeutics Advisory Committee) in 2003 on improvements to access, to Fosamax or making an alternate medication available.

Dr Peter Moodie, Medical Director of Pharmac attended the conference, and stated that Pharmac are currently reviewing access to the bisphosphonates, the group of drugs which includes alendronate.

Osteoporosis New Zealand welcomes this review and strongly supports allowing people with a bone density T-score lower than –2.5 being able to be treated with alendronate and also an alternate being made for those who are unable to take it due to other health problems.


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