What Others Are Doing


On September 22 2008, Ontario MPP Gilles Bisson stood in the legislature and delivered this Member's statement:

Mr. Gilles Bisson: I want to speak about the issue of arthritis in the province of Ontario. You will know that in Canada in general, and in Ontario, about one in six or one in five Ontarians suffer from various types of arthritis. There are about a hundred different types.

I want to give my story. Members would have seen me drag myself into this House last spring, using a cane, having a difficult time walking, always thinking I had a physical injury. It wasn't until such time as I had a chat with my daughter, who is a nurse practitioner and who noticed that I had a rash on my leg, that my condition was in fact identified as psoriatic arthritis.

I want to say this, because it is an issue in this province that not enough people know what this condition is, and if not treated, as many people in this chamber will know, the condition can worsen. Luckily for me, my daughter is a nurse practitioner, and luckily for me, my family doctor, Dr. Stephen Cohen, knows something about the issue and I was diagnosed quickly.

But here is the other story. As I go to the pharmacy to fill my prescription, I'm lucky. As a member of this assembly, I have the little drug card that everybody else gets (Holding up Ontario MPP benefit card), so my drugs are paid. Many people who suffer with this condition show up at the pharmacy—I see it first-hand—and are not able to get the medication they need to treat their condition.

I call on this government to work on this issue so that other people who suffer from this condition are able, first, to get the type of medical attention they need and, second, get the drugs they need in order to deal with the condition.

I'll be speaking of this later as we bring forward a motion or bill on this very issue.

On April 17 2008, BC MLA Scott Fraser made a powerful statement about arthritis in the BC Legislature.

Scott Fraser: One in six Canadians live with some form of arthritis. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and they are broken into two main groups: osteoarthritis and inflammatory arthritis. Arthritis affects people of all ages and has a serious impact on the quality of life. Inexpensive disease-arresting medications are available, but early diagnosis and treatment for rheumatoid arthritis is key to minimizing long-term disability and premature death.

Here are some of the challenges that we face. Fewer than 270 rheumatologists are actively practising in Canada today. Many people who live with inflammatory arthritis are treated by general practitioners and internists. Some of these have been able to stay current with arthritis techniques, but the fact is that GPs receive only 17 hours of training on musculoskeletal diseases during the entirety of their medical training.

British Columbians living in rural communities often fare worse in terms of accessing timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Aboriginal peoples are five times more likely to contract rheumatoid arthritis than non-aboriginal Canadians, and it is often more debilitating and more life threatening. Arthritis is the leading cause of disability for people over the age of 15, honourable speaker. All these statistics are stark and highlight the seriousness of the condition and the costs to individuals and, certainly, to society in British Columbia and in Canada.

Here is what we need to do. British Columbians must be made aware of arthritis. We need education. All relevant health professionals must be able to perform standardized age-appropriate screening assessment. They need education. Every British Columbian must have timely and equal access to appropriate treatments and medication. We as legislators definitely have a role to play in ensuring that all of this happens.

Letters to the Editor

February 23, 2009—Calgary Herald

Re: "Alberta urged to pay for arthritis drugs," Feb. 19.

I hope something can be done quickly to see that Albertans have the same advantage as patients in the rest of Canada. It is puzzling that a treatment approved by Health Canada takes more than two years in review to be approved by Alberta. There can be various life-threatening complications with rheumatoid arthritis, along with irreversible joint damage if the disease is untreated. For patients who respond only to or best with infusions of Rituximab, the immediate approval of this drug is paramount. Let us hope our elected leaders do not ignore the citizens' suffering.

Bobbi Wendland,
Grande Prairie

February 17, 2009—Calgary Herald

I wake up each morning, barely able to lift the covers off because of a flare-up of rheumatoid arthritis. In the past, this has been relieved by Rituximab, which Health Canada approved for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. Rituximab is in the formulary of nearly every province, but poor Alberta has no money for it. Why? Early treatment of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is imperative, otherwise patients face further joint destruction, repeated complications (in my case, pericardial effusions, pulmonary and leg blood clots, collapse of platelets and septicemia) and subsequent hospitalizations. I was free of flare-ups since April 2007 with my last treatment with Rituximab. I have had no further hospitalization except for surgery to repair previous joint damage. Rituximab is a very expensive drug and is covered in Alberta for people with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Why am I and others with rheumatoid arthritis not worthy of funded treatment with Rituximab? It certainly feels like discrimination.

Sandie Ursel,
Pincher Creek

November 15, 2007—The Star Phoenix (Saskatoon)

Hooray for Cheryl Koehn for calling attention to the need for access to appropriate medications for severe ankylosing spondylitis! Arthritis group wants drugs added to plan (SP, Nov 15.)

Saskatchewan supports the Common Drug Review (CDR). It's therefore difficult to understand why the Saskatchewan Drug Plan declined to put on the formulary these biologic medications that were recommended by the CDR for this indication. These same drugs are listed for severe forms of some other types of arthritis, which must make people with ankylosing spondylitis feel very under appreciated by their government. There is no doubt that this is discrimination.

There is also no doubt that best evidence treatment for ankylosing spondylitis and all other forms of inflammatory arthritis is cost effective. Appropriate treatment prevents or delays disability and enables patients to remain productive members of society. It helps reduce the numbers on surgical wait lists. The cost of treating arthritis as a second class disease, and the people who live with it as second class citizens, is tremendous.

Arthritis affects all ages, including infants. It is not aches and pains as we grow older. There are approximately 150,000 people living with arthritis in Saskatchewan today, and every one of them deserves to be given the same access to care and treatment as other citizens with other diseases. The first step to remedy the situation is to reverse the decision of the Saskatchewan Drug Plan and put the three biologic medications on the formulary for ankylosing spondylitis. The Sask Party has promised to put patients first, and we have every confidence that Brad Wall will keep this promise.

Anne Dooley
Person living with rheumatoid arthritis
President, Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance

206 Garrison Crescent
Saskatoon, SK S7H 2Z8

Phone: 306-374-6682
Fax: 306-374-4922

About the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance (CAPA):
CAPA is a grassroots, patientdriven, national, volunteer arthritis education and advocacy organization with members and supporters across Canada, that seeks to improve the quality of life of all people living with the disease. CAPA believes the first expert in arthritis is the person who has it. The organization communicates the latest in health policy issues and knowledge gained from research through it's newsletter. Members collaborate and network extensively with other organizations and individuals, and work with federal and provincial government advisory panels and representatives:
  • To raise awareness about arthritis to ensure timely and uniform access to appropriate medications, health professionals and services.
  • To ensure a meaningful voice for patients in arthritis and related research at all decision making levels, and to involve patients in health policy planning, development and decision making.
  • To educate the public by creating and providing information for adults and children with arthritis diseases and their support communities.