Prioritising Medicines, Negotiating Lives: An Anthropological Inquiry of Pharmaceutical Access in New Zealand
Pharmaceuticals have become synonymous with ideas of health and wellbeing. The consumption of pharmaceuticals has become the gateway to restoring, maintaining, or improving one’s health; in turn becoming deeply entrenched in everyday life as treatment for disease. Given the use of pharmaceuticals for treatment, the question needs to be asked how individuals are able to obtain the medication they need. There is little anthropological literature concerning how patients negotiate and lobby for access to pharmaceutical treatment in New Zealand, particularly so in the face of Pharmac as the government entity which heavily regulates pharmaceuticals. Through conducting interviews with nine participants who are patients, general practitioners, and employees of Pharmac, I argue that in utilising policies such as cost utility analysis Pharmac prioritise which medicines are publically funded, and in doing this determine how health is conceived and calculated within the New Zealand health care system. In determining which medicines should be funded the state is making judgements over which lives are prioritised, and, in turn, who is left to die. I suggest that in the face of being denied access to life-saving drugs patients become mobilised through seeking access to experimental therapies via pharmaceutical companies. By taking these experimental treatments we come to understand that experimentation and risk have become crucial in patients fight for life against the prognosis of an early death from disease.