Pharmac is considering whether to help cut the cost of tampons and pads.
Pharmac is seeking advice on whether sanitary products fall within the boundaries of items it’s allowed to fund. Photo: 123RF
The government funding agency has received an application for it to subsidise sanitary products and hopes to report back shortly.
Campaigners have been lobbying for greater access to the items since reports last year of women not being able to afford them and having to use rags or newspaper instead.
Pharmac’s chief executive, Steffan Crausaz, said a private citizen, who he won’t name, contacted them about the matter late last year.
“It’s the first time, as far as I can tell, that we’ve had an application like this.”
Mr Crausaz said Pharmac was now seeking advice on whether sanitary products fall within the boundaries of items it’s allowed to fund.
Steffan Crausaz Photo: ( RNZ / Karen Brown )
“Pharmac’s role and what we’re funded for is to look at medicines and therapeutic medical devices. So the first step is really to determine whether it falls within that boundary.”
He said the agency does have some scope.
“Usually what we would do is look towards products that are regulated by Medsafe … We can go further than that for certain items. So, for example, we have funded sunscreen for particular situations.”
Mr Crausaz said it was far too early to say how Pharmac could go about funding feminine hygiene products.
Darryl Evans, from the Māngere Budgeting Service in Auckland, said he hoped Pharmac would help ease the burden for those in need.
He said the cost of these products was a major problem for many women.
“I can think of one particular family where currently there’s three teenage girls in the one home. So if you then include the mother, there’s a fairly substantial amount of money going on women’s product.”
Mr Evans said some women “literally are using rags, old clothing or tea towels.”
The Salvation Army helped launch a campaign last year, alongside the Countdown supermarket chain, calling for donations of sanitary products for vulnerable young women.
The charity’s head of social services, Pam Waugh, said Pharmac had an opportunity to improve the lives of the next generation of girls.
“Especially for young people, children at school. The young girls are getting to that stage of life and some of them are missing school, because their families can’t afford to buy sanitary products.
“We know the stories of women having to wash sanitary pads and then reuse them, which is quite unhygienic and also quite degrading in a sense … We’re hearing of women getting infections.”
She said anything to help bring down the cost would be a real blessing.
“It would be great to see purchases sit around the $2 or $3 mark rather than up at the $6 or $7.”
Labour MP Louisa Wall was also at last year’s campaign launch.
Ms Wall described the matter as a “quiet epidemic”.
“It’s quite alarming to think that this type of need exists in this country, but the reality is it does and we need to do something about it.”
Both the Health Minister, Jonathan Coleman, and the Minister for Women, Paula Bennett, declined to be interviewed.