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June 16, 2022 | Advocacy, Life with MS, Treatments


Multiple Sclerosis NZ is pleased to see the announcement this week from Pharmac to provide access to funded MS treatments earlier than ever before. The new criteria will no longer require those clinically diagnosed with MS to wait for a second episode of symptoms, attack or relapse, before they can begin treatment. These changes will come into effect 1 July 2022.

Since 2014 MSNZ have been calling on Pharmac to widen the entry criteria. Official international changes made to the McDonald Criteria in 2017/18 furthered this call and clinician support from 2020 had a profound effect on the success.

In March 2021 changes to the stopping criteria, which MSNZ had also been advocating for, meant New Zealanders are now remaining on treatment significantly longer, in line with the best international evidence. From 1st July we will now see those newly diagnosed with MS accessing treatment earlier.

This is a huge step forward in the treatment of MS in New Zealand. It now prioritises the importance of early intervention being vital for preserving long-term brain health, reducing the likelihood of premature disease progression or disability. Importantly, these changes will help to relieve some of the mental stress and fear that the current “waiting game” has placed upon people.

This prioritisation of early intervention supports findings the Economic Burden of MS Report recently released by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), commissioned by MSNZ. The report shows earlier intervention of MS will not only save New Zealand’s health system millions of dollars per year, it will also contribute millions back into the economy through individual income related earnings.

The report states – understanding the total costs and benefits of a health challenge is good health economics which matters for society because a person’s health has implications for families, society, and the economy.

Although the understanding of MS is evolving, the NZIER report provides evidence that earlier intervention and medicines funding access are key to positive outcomes for both people with MS and the New Zealand economy.

With the average age of diagnosis of MS being mid-late 30s, these people tend to be in their peak earning years, with financial commitments and families to support. The report describes how the progression of the disease to the severe disability level can be delayed by between 6 to 10 years with early intervention and the present value of such a delay could be between $500,000 and $1 million per case over the delay period. See here to read more about the Economic Burden of MS Report.

Bringing the criteria in-line with international diagnostic criteria will also mean New Zealanders returning home, or those emigrating to NZ will no longer fear what the discrepancies will mean to their treatment continuation.

MS can be a complex condition to diagnose. We understand and appreciate that for many, these changes will not have come soon enough. However, we hope these changes will improve the diagnostic and treatment initiation process for New Zealanders from now on and in the future. We look forward to seeing the positive outcomes of these changes.

For those currently going through diagnosis, or if you have any questions about how these new criteria may affect you, we encourage you to contact your local neurology department or primary health care provider. MSNZ is unable to discuss or give advice on individual cases.

Thank you to everyone who has followed, supported and encouraged our efforts. A particular thanks to all those who have shared their stories with us, our MS specialists, donors and all people with MS who continue to be our source of strength and encouragement.


Read more about the new MS treatment access criteria here: Decision to fund treatment earlier for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis – Pharmac | New Zealand Government

Read the full Pharmac media release here: Pharmac announces first round of medicine funding decisions following $191m pharmaceutical budget increase – Pharmac | New Zealand Government

Read more about the Economic Burden of MS Report here: Media Release: The Economic Burden Report | Multiple Sclerosis Society of NZMultiple Sclerosis Society of NZ (


Extract from Pharmac’s Media Release (15 June 2022)

Earlier access to multiple sclerosis treatments

Pharmac is widening access to eight medicines currently funded for relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis to enable people to get treatment sooner. From next month New Zealanders who experience one clinical episode of multiple sclerosis and meet clinical criteria will be eligible for funded treatment.

“We know that early intervention is an important step in the management of multiple sclerosis and that it will help to reduce disability,” says Pharmac’s Director of Operations, Lisa Williams. “Historically people have had to wait to have two clinical episodes before they could access funded treatment, so we’re pleased that the budget uplift gas enabled us to widen funded access.”

Pharmac received a huge amount of supportive feedback from the multiple sclerosis community in response to the consultation released in May,” says Ms Williams. “Hearing how medicines impact the lives of New Zealanders is really important in helping us understand the value of the medicines we are proposing for funding.”

Neil Woodhams, President of the Multiple Sclerosis Society of New Zealand believes this decision will have a profound effect on the long-term physical and brain health of those yet to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

“It will have a huge impact on the mental health of those going through diagnosis, reducing the stress and fear of having to wait for a second event, risking unnecessary disability and disease progression,” says Woodhams.