Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has conceded New Zealand’s health system must be more proactive to treat women suffering from endometriosis.
The debilitating condition, which occurs when uterine cells grow in other parts of the body, is estimated to affect 130,000 Kiwis.
Many women struggle for years to get a diagnosis of the disease, and most in New Zealand are dependent on the under-pressure public health system for access to treatment.
Endometriosis NZ (ENZ) chief executive Deborah Bell calls it an “under-reported, poorly recognised, poorly diagnosed and poorly treated disease”, and has the statistics to prove it.
During NZ’s COVID-19 lockdown, 568 women contacted ENZ pleading for treatment and support.
“Many of them absolutely desperate for someone to listen and for someone to care,” she told AAP.
“We heard lots of stories about how ‘endo’ affects women.
“One of the comments was her partner was home more. He wanted sex more. Sex for her was excruciatingly painful. She cried and cried. She’d rather have his fist in her face than put out (for sex).
“Others said ‘my relationship has fallen over’ or ‘I’ve lost my job’ or ‘I’m depressed and back living with my mother at 30’.
“That’s what we were dealing with.”
Ms Ardern said “almost every woman would know someone” to suffer from the disease and “women shouldn’t have to exist in a life of pain”.
“We’ve got to make sure that we can get people moving through our system and getting the surgery,” Ms Ardern told AAP.
“But my concern as well is we’re not always seeing diagnosis when we should and treatment.
“The options for a woman who are often experiencing extreme symptoms and pain are fairly limited and so I think there’s a whole piece of work that should be done in this place.”
Ms Bell applauded Ms Ardern’s acknowledgement.
“That’s quite right,” she said.
“The emphasis needs to be taken off the surgery and we need to ask ‘why is there a diagnostic delay of eight plus years, prime minister?’ That’s a long time to wait in a queue.
“It’s about less surgeries and more awareness, appropriate and timely treatment.”
Announcing its health policy on Tuesday, Labour promised $NZ200 million ($A185 million) more to reduce waiting lists for all surgeries but no specific support towards endometriosis.
That’s despite Labour helping to launch the clinical diagnosis pathway at parliament last year.
“To me, words aren’t enough … this a shovel-ready project,” Dr Bell said.
“People are sick of fob-offs, we’ve all had enough. We can catch it and make a difference to tens of thousands.”
Women’s health also featured in the second leaders’ debate, held on Wednesday night.
Both Ms Ardern and rival Judith Collins agreed to roll out sanitary products at schools to help curb non-attendance by young girls, and make inroads into period poverty.