A New Zealand life is worth $12,400 per year according to the Government's
Covid-19 kitty of $62 billion, a figure that could rise as we combat the latest Delta variant.
Compare that figure to $200 per year. That's how much the Government is prepared to spend on every citizen who needs to access a medicine through Pharmac, New Zealand's drug buying agency.
That's $3.80 a week to not only improve your health but to enable you to be a productive member of the economy and society. This, compared to $238 a week to achieve likewise, because of the global pandemic.
Why is a life saved from Covid-19 worth $234.20 more than a life saved from other illnesses? Are more lives expected to be lost to Covid-19 than to other diseases?
University of Otago public health expert Professor Nick Wilson suggested we could have had 14,400 people die from the virus.
Annually, Type II diabetes-related conditions cost a thousand lives; respiratory diseases take 3000; heart disease than 5000; and cancer, the leading cause of death in NZ each year, kills 9500.
Without accounting for all diseases, it is obvious that many more people will die from a serious illness than from Covid-19.
We have known for some years that New Zealand lags woefully behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to access to modern medicines. The Government is obviously making a conscious decision to value a life differently, according to what illness you have.
Patients with those same diseases - diabetes, cancer, respiratory and heart disease - are also more likely to be seriously ill and die from Covid-19 if they are unlucky enough to contract it.
To add insult to disease, we aren't providing those patients with the best defence against Covid-19, as Pharmac is not funding the best-in-class medicines that will equip their immunity with the best chance of fighting off the deadly virus. This is contrary to the position the Government has taken with the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, where they have opted for the most expensive inoculation on the market due to its efficacy.
Why is it not doing the same for patients who need more modern, and better, medicines?
While Pharmac announced 53,000 Type II diabetics will be able to access two newly funded medicines to treat the condition, a further 140,000 patients are going without.
With cost-effective cancer medicines, Australia funds over 60 more than New Zealand.
Pharmac has now said that it will fund a "new" statin to treat 75,000 New Zealanders with heart disease but neglected to tell the public this definition of a "new" statin is one that has been funded in Australia for 15 years and is now available in 16 brands across the Tasman.
The reason Pharmac is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to funding modern medicines is simple and one that it now freely admits - a lack of budget from the Government.
Either by international standards, or by using Pharmac's own figures, it is simple to calculate Pharmac's cavernous budget hole.
New Zealand spends 5 per cent of the Vote Health budget on medicines, whereas other OECD countries spend three times more on average. Pharmac's own admission that it would cost in excess of $400 million to buy more than 70 modern medicines and knowing
that there are another 280 medicines grinding their way through Pharmac's notoriously slow system, leaves a deficit of $2 billion annually.
That leaves Pharmac's annual budget needing to be $3 billion, or $600 per year, for each New Zealander.
That's still a far cry from over $12k yearly that the Government is prepared to spend to protect lives from Covid-19.
Shrieks of not wanting to line the pockets of Big Pharma are often used as a justification not to increase Pharmac's budget. Yet it is the same Big Pharma that New Zealand and the world is relying upon to save lives in the form of the Covid-19 vaccines.
Right now, it is a case of potential lives lost from Covid-19 being more valuable than those actual lives of patients with a serious illness.
It should not matter if your health is afflicted by Covid-19 or a disease - the value of a life should be the same for everyone living in New Zealand.
Let's hope that the Government is not prepared to address the inequity of care between Covid-19 and other diseases as it is doing with children with cancer and with a rare disorder.
In that instance, it is a race to the bottom as they strip kids with cancer of the ability to access any new drug that they need. If the same principle was applied, they would only be able to access the cheapest vaccine, if any at all.
• Dr Malcolm Mulholland is chair of Patient Voice Aotearoa.