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Friday, 15 June 1984
Page: 3131

Senator HEARN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Why has the importation of cancer therapy iscador, which has been available to cancer patients and other patients-some three hundred-on a doctor's prescription for quite some time now been stopped? What explanation has been given to those patients by the Department of Health for this action? Is the Minister aware that iscador therapy used at the Lukas Clinic for Cancer Therapy in Switzerland is, after a legal battle, now available under medical benefits in Germany? Is the Minister aware that 2,000 doctors around the world are currently using iscador and 40 doctors a year are doing post-graduate training in the therapy, including Australian doctors?

Senator GRIMES —The entry of iscador, which is a herbal preparation, has been refused in Australia because, to date, adequate data to establish its quality, its safety and its efficacy in therapeutic use have not been provided by its sponsors as is required by the legislative provisions of the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations. Products which have not been approved for marketing in Australia may not be considered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee for listing under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The product is available in West Germany, but the health authorities there have proposed that, for herbal-type remedies such as iscador, data to establish their safety and effectiveness for recommended indications must be generated and must be produced by 1990. I point out that in West Germany there is available not only a broad range of substances on its equivalent of our pharmaceutical benefits scheme or medical benefits scheme, but also a large range of physical therapies, such as visits to spas and all sorts of alternative therapies. But that policy is at present under review in West Germany. One of the things it is reviewing is the provision of preparations like iscador, remedies whose safety and effectiveness have not been established.

I understand that a group of interested persons will be seeing the Minister for Health and officers of his Department in the near future to seek definition of the type of information that is required on iscador. Subsequently, the group will endeavour to obtain the information from the manufacturer. When it becomes available it will be reviewed by the appropriate expert committee. I remind honourable senators that in this country we have strict legislative provisions about the importation, use and sale of various drugs. There are good reasons for this. One wishes that the present stringent provisions had been in place, for instance, when the drug thalidomide was introduced into this country. I believe it is worth while maintaining those provisions so that we do not have the introduction of drugs whose efficiency, effectiveness and safety are unknown. I believe that is to the benefit of the community as a whole. I know of no indication of a relaxation of those provisions in the legislation at the moment.