Eitan proposes medication task force

Health basket cmte. chair: No changes can be made without additional funds.

By SHERA CLAIRE FRENKEL, JPOST STAFF
May 18, 2006 20:10
4 minute read.
hunger strike 298.88

hunger strike 298.88. (photo credit: Channel 1)

 
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Pensioners Minister Rafi Eitan on Monday proposed that a task force be established to find a solution to the problem of funding live-saving cancer medications, Army Radio reported. The task force would operate on a budget of tens of millions of dollars to be raised from non-government organizations. "One of the objectives is to unite all the organizations working to raise funds on this issue, like the colon cancer patients, and make their work more effective," Eitan said.

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Meanwhile, as colon cancer patients began the ninth day of their hunger strike, chairman of the health basket committee Professor Mordechai Shani said that unless the committee received additional funds, it would be "unable to make changes to the basket." "We aren't making anything up. We're professionals. This is a painful decision, but someone has to make it," Shani said. On Sunday, two of the colon cancer patients and their family members experienced a brief moment of hope when radio personality Natan Zahavi announced that as of Saturday night he had joined the hunger strike. After drawing significant media interest, Zahavi set off two smoke rockets and was arrested by Knesset police for disorderly behavior. As the radio and television crews streamed in, the core group of four people who have been subsiding on nothing but salt water was surrounded by the dozens more who had streamed in to show solidarity with their demands. For several hours it appeared that the protesters might even succeed in convincing the government to include the cancer-fighting drugs Erbitx and Avastin in the 2006 health basket. Several of them were invited in to the Knesset to discuss their demands with government officials and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert asked the committee dealing with the health basket to reconvene urgently to reconsider the issue of including the drug needed by those suffering from colon cancer. Then, towards the late afternoon, the protesters' hope suddenly faded. As Olmert boarded his plane to the US, Pensioners Affairs Minister Rafi Eitan was preparing for his own private trip to Cuba. Ben-Yizri, the only official left to address their cause, was preparing to leave for Geneva Monday morning. "These people, these politicians are doing nothing but dragging their feet," moaned Ella Kleine, who has been fasting for her mother, Shoshana, who was diagnosed with colon cancer two months ago. Kleine had been invited to Sunday's meeting in the Knesset, but after several hours she had decided to leave. "My mother is dying while these fools sit and debate and hold meetings. I'm done with their meetings. Give us the damn drugs," she said. Although she can hardly walk and finds it hard to concentrate, Kleine's eyes flashed angrily and she twisted the glittery pink scarf around her neck as she talked. "Am I angry? Of course, I am furious. They keep telling us to wait. There is no waiting, my mother will die if she cannot have these drugs," said Kleine. "I just left a meeting in the Knesset because they were draining me of my strength. I have no more strength after eight days of fasting, I am saving everything I have to sit out here and last as long as I can." Of the four people on the hunger strike, two have been diagnosed with colon cancer, and are fasting against their doctor's orders. "They would rather die here, of hunger, then wait it out and let the cancer kill them slowly because they don't have the drugs," said Tami Bar-El, whose boyfriend, Aaron Horosh, has been fasting. To pay for seven treatments of Avastin, 62-year-old Yaakov Horosh said he sold his business and home. Now living with his son, Horush said he felt betrayed by his own country. Erbitux and Avastin, whose cost has been estimated at NIS 78 million to NIS 200m. a year, were not included in the expanded basket of health services for the 2006 budget. Although MKs from across the political spectrum have called for the drugs to be included, Modechai Shani, the official in charge of approving drugs for the basket, has said that it would be impossible for the government to afford to include the drugs. Philanthropist and businessman Sami Ofer has volunteered to cover a month's worth of the drugs Erbitux and Avastin for colon cancer patients in the hope that the government will find a long-term solution for them. But the patients who have been hunger-striking for a week outside the Knesset are continuing to demonstrate. "Until we have the drugs in hand I will continue to sit here and not eat, I will die here," said Kleine. As she spoke, two twenty-year-olds from a town near Lake Kinneret shyly approached. They had ridden a bus straight to Jerusalem after seeing Kleine on the morning news. They wanted to know what they could do to help. "Our mother died two months ago; we figured that if we didn't come, who would," the girls explained. Kleine quickly directed them to the growing row of tents that was forming in the Rose Garden facing the Knesset. Tomorrow, they would continue to meet with government officials. On Sunday however, the protesters gathered to talk of acupuncture, homeotherapy, and energy healing treatments. "It's what you do when you have cancer," said Kleine, "you find something to put your hope in."

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