Access to medicine in Poland
Until last year, people living with MS in Poland had limited access to first-line treatment. They could claim for the costs of such treatment from the National Health Fund, but only for five years. After five years had passed, they had to fund treatment themselves.
Dominika Czarnota from Polskie Towarzystwo Stwardnienia Rozsianego (the Polish MS Association) said: “This situation led to interruption in receiving an optimal and proper therapy and consequently to deterioration of the everyday functioning of many people with MS.”
This was intolerable for people such as Małgorzata, 34, who said: “It was devastating for me to stop taking the medicine, I have already been experiencing first symptoms of not using it – the right side of my body becomes numb and I have problems with seeing. I am afraid of relapses; I do not want to be a disabled person.”
Based on the experiences of people like Małgorzata, the Polish MS Association joined other patients’ organisations to lobby Poland’s Ministry of Health and the National Health Fund. They wrote to them and contacted the media to raise awareness of the plight of MS patients who could not afford to pay for their first-line treatment.
They were supported by people like Anna, 28, who said: “In February I ended five years of my reimbursed treatment program – it was effective as for five years I haven’t had any relapses and no single lesion in MRI. I strongly support the fight that Polish MS Society leads in order to help people like me.”
The letters sent to the Ministry of Health and National Health Fund had put the funding issue on the agenda. But it was a national press conference, held in Warsaw in February 2014, that started to draw public attention to the issue, says Dominika: “Before the press conference we didn’t get much attention. After that, the Ministry of Health wanted us to discuss the problem. Politicians are afraid of the media.”
Speaking at the press conference, Polish MS Association president Tomasz Połeć said that that cancelling the five-year limitation to first-line therapies would be a foundation for European Standards of Treatment.
The press conference was attended by healthcare specialists as well as by people with MS, who spoke about the impact of the funding restrictions on their lives. It was also attended by the most popular radio and TV stations. This increased the pressure on the Ministry of Health so much that, in July 2014, the restrictions were lifted. While reimbursement of second-line treatments is still limited to five years, people with MS in Poland now have unlimited access to first-line treatment.
Dominika says: “The outcome was of great significance as all those actions enabled people with MS to use first-line therapies without any time restrictions. This situation meaningfully changed their quality of life and gave chance of a safer future.”