Guyon Espiner investigates Pharmac: The NZ Buyer’s Club

Guyon Espiner reveals how lung cancer patients are buying cut-price drugs from India, as other New Zealanders fundraise, petition and apply for clinical trials to access medications Pharmac won’t fund.

This is the first story in a four-part investigation into how Pharmac works and whether its model is costing lives. The second story will be online tomorrow.

Baden Ngan Kee edges down the stairs using a black cane topped with a jaguar’s head fashioned from silver. He opens the office door leading out to an industrial car park, gives a firm handshake and collapses to the ground.

When he was diagnosed with lung cancer he was given six months to live. That was three years ago. His business savvy has kept him alive. Ngan Kee has been sourcing cut-price medicines from India. They are drugs that would cost $10,000 a month in New Zealand and he’s been importing generics, sometimes for as little as $600 a month. Pharmac won’t fund the medication for lung cancer patients.

At first, he just sourced them for himself, using drug mules to bring in high- powered pain killers and then modern cancer medicines. Now he helps dozens of other cancer sufferers around New Zealand – hooks them up, refers them on, sorts them out.

It’s like something out of Dallas Buyers Club, except we’re at his place of work. Baden has fallen at the bottom of the staircase at FoodStuffs, Mt Roskill in Auckland, New Zealand – a country at the bottom of the developed world for access to medicines.

He gets up again, with help. But how many more times?

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