New Zealand has the third highest rate of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the world, but there are only two drugs that are currently being funded to treat it. As not every drug works for every IBD patient, this leaves many affected individuals without a treatment option. Now, New Zealanders are calling for improvements.
About Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is an umbrella term used for a group of disorders that involve chronic inflammation in the digestive tract. This group includes conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. The exact cause of IBD is unknown, but many suspect that it has to do with an immune system malfunction. Healthcare professionals suspect that an abnormal response of the immune system is triggered when it attempts to fight off viruses or bacteria, which then causes the system to attack the cells within the digestive tract.
While the cause is unknown, there are risk factors that are known to lead to or aggravate the disease. These factors include diet, stress, cigarettes, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Age is another factor, as the majority of people are diagnosed with IBD before age 30. This disease affects mainly white people, and people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at an even higher risk. If one has a family history of IBD, there is a higher likelihood that they will develop this disease. Location can also affect IBD, with those living in industrialized countries or northern climates have a higher chance of developing it.
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease vary with the location and severity of inflammation. Many people experience periods of active symptoms followed by periods of remission. These active symptoms include diarrhea, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, cramping, blood in stool, loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. Seeking treatment is important as complications of this disease include colon cancer, blood clots, primary sclerosing cholangitis, and inflammation of the eyes, joints, and skin.
IBD in New Zealand
Danielle Barber was 19 years old when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. She was only 20 when she had to undergo an intense surgery, as both funded medications were unsuccessful. Now, at age 23, she is fighting for access to at least two more treatments by petitioning the government.
Gastroenterologists say that these medications would be life-changing for IBD patients. They could prevent trips to the hospital and surgeries, and they could remove some of the obstacles that affected individuals face.
At least 20,000 signatures are needed for the government to take the petitions seriously. You can sign it here.
Read more about Danielle and other IBD patients’ stories here.