Dunedin husband and wife Julian and Camilla Cox arrived in Ashburton on Tuesday afternoon on a tandem bicycle and towing a coffin with a skeleton named Hope seated behind them.
The couple are part way through an epic 1200km ride from Dunedin to Wellington aimed at persuading the Government to increase the funding of Pharmac, the agency which decides which medicines and pharmaceutical products are subsidised for use in the community and public hospitals.
The bike trip is a part of an awareness campaign and is collecting signatures for a petition over its 18-day duration.
The petition, organised by Patient Voice Aotearoa, asks Parliament to urge the Minister of Health to conduct external reform of Pharmac and to double Pharmac’s budget immediately, with a plan to triple the budget within two years.
The drug funding issue is important to Julian and Camilla Fox because their 19-year-old daughter Rachael has cystic fibrosis, but cannot freely get new life-saving and life-changing medications here.
“We can’t access the drugs in New Zealand, despite these medicines being funded in countries like Australia and Britain,” Mr Cox said.
“Pharmac has agreed to fund at least one of these treatments, kalydeco, with low priority. This effectively means it will never be funded.
“People who need kalydeco, like our daughter, just can’t afford to wait.”
New Zealanders who have never needed unfunded medicines don’t know how dire the state of funding in New Zealand is, says Mr Cox.
New Zealand ranked last out of 20 OECD countries for market access to modern medicines.
“We think it’s just so important that the petition to double Pharmac’s budget is successful, so we decided to do the ride to Wellington to generate publicity, raise awareness and collect more signatures.”
The tandem bike being ridden by the Dunedin couple was bought 28 years ago to tour the USA, after the pair finished a year teaching in Japan.
The coffin being pulled weighs in at about 50kg with luggage inside it.
The couple plan to arrive in Wellington on January 22 and will leave the coffin outside Parliament and present the petition.