Regular readers of this column may remember asbestos warrior Bernie Banton, the Australian mesothelioma and asbestosis patient who spent what life energy he had left fighting on behalf of his fellow asbestos victims. Banton’s disease killed him a month ago. In death however, Banton was ultimately triumphant over the dragons of greed and indifference.
As of the New Year, the price Australian mesothelioma sufferers pay for a palliative drug proven to relieve pain and extend life dropped from AUD$20,000 to around AUD$250. Alimta is the brand name of premextred, a chemotherapy drug manufactured and marketed by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Until now, it was available under Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme only to certain individuals in the states of New South Wales and Western Australia, and only if the claimant could prove workplace exposure. The government subsidy was also readily available to smokers who had developed non-small cell lung cancer–something Banton called a “travesty of justice.”
This meant that most Australian mesothelioma patients had to take out second mortgages on their homes or sell them in order to pay the exorbitant price of the medication. The Australian government was reluctant to fund the treatment because of its cost and the fact that it would benefit relatively few people. Banton’s efforts have insured that Australia’s mesothelioma victims–whose numbers are currently increasing by about 600 per year–will now have a fighting chance at a better life. Banton’s widow Karen was quoted in the Australian press as saying, “…there are people who have done extremely well and are going well three years or longer down the track who have exactly what Bernie had, if they’ve managed to be diagnosed early enough and get started on the treatment.”
Barry Robson, who is president of the Asbestos Diseases Association of Australia, points out that while Alimta can slow the growth of tumors, it does not work for everyone. However, he adds that “…the pain they are in at the end is horrendous… with Alimta it’s a bit easier and it’s a bit easier on the family as well.” They can thank the efforts of Bernie Banton…a true Australian hero.