Arthritis Consumer Experts

January 21, 2008
For Immediate Release

Disparities in Access Give Rise to Possible Human Rights Violations

(Ottawa, ON) — Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) today unveiled their national report card, comparing and grading provinces across Canada on how well their residents are able to access medically necessary arthritis treatments.

"The report card came about because of the huge disparity in what is available to people with arthritis across the country," said Cheryl Koehn, President of ACE. "Arthritis is arthritis. When it's bad, it's bad. It doesn't matter where you live."

Koehn noted that, despite misperceptions, arthritis often impacts young people in the prime of their lives, contributing vastly to work disability and other overall costs to the public system. Several available treatments, if made widely available across Canada, can now halt disease and bring patients back to work, allowing them to contribute as productive members of society.

"When you're told as a community that treatments that have been peer reviewed, approved by the Common Drug Review, and frequently recommended as medically necessary by physicians are not available to you, yet patients sitting next to you with cancer or HIV/AIDS are getting state of the art treatment, it makes you feel valueless," said Koehn.

Arthritis research in Canada receives a disproportionately low amount of funding, based on the over 4.5 million Canadians that suffer from the disease. Medical professionals warn that the increasing burden cannot be ignored.

"One in ten doctor visits are a result of arthritis or a major muscular skeletal problem, yet less than two per cent of research funds are directed toward this disease," said Dr. John Esdaile, Scientific Director of the Arthritis Research Centre of Canada. "The true cost of arthritis is estimated by the Canadian government at 14 billion dollars, which is completely out of line with the small percentage spent on understanding how to decrease the growing burden on our health care system."

Esdaile noted that many treatments deemed medically necessary by physicians cannot be accessed by patients.

"Patients with money can access treatments that will give them their lives back," said Esdaile. "Oftentimes, if these same patients rely on the health care system, we as physicians must tell them that the treatments aren't covered, and essentially that they can't have their lives back."

The disparity noted by the medical and patient communities in Canada are a growing concern from a human rights perspective. A lack of access to treatment could give rise to a complaint as a result of discrimination based on disability.

"The risk around arthritis from a human rights perspective is significant from both the perspective of government and private employers," said Hugh O'Reilly, a Toronto lawyer specializing in benefits and human rights law. "This disease is debilitating, and if not treated in a timely manner, a person will suffer a permanent physical loss. That leads to an enormous risk for a human rights case being brought forward."

Should such a case come forward, provincial governments and private employers providing drug plans for employees would be at risk of violation.

"Arthritis is the Rosa Parks of diseases. People with arthritis have been sitting at the back of the bus for a long time, and today is the day to change that," concluded Koehn.

About ACE

Arthritis Consumer Experts (ACE) is a national organization that provides research-based information and education to Canadians with arthritis. The organization helps to empower people living with all forms of arthritis to take control of their disease and to take action in health care and research decision-making. ACE is led by people with arthritis and its activities are guided by a strict set of guiding principles, set out by an advisory board comprised of leading scientists, medical professionals and informed arthritis activists.

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For more information:
Quincey Kirschner
(778) 847-9793

Diana Arajs
(416) 669-0910