UNITED NATIONS: Over one million people in low and middle income countries have been treated with a revolutionary new cure for hepatitis C since its introduction two years ago, according to a new report released by the World Health Organization.
The report,”Global Report on Access to Hepatitis C Treatment: Focus on Overcoming Barriers,” said that the new medicines have a cure rate of more than 95 percent, fewer side effects than previously available therapies, and can completely cure the disease within three months.
When Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) were first approved for hepatitis C treatment in 2013, there were widespread fears that their high price—some 85,000 U.S. dollars—would put them out of reach for the more than 80 million people with chronic hepatitis C infections worldwide, the report said.
“But thanks to a series of access strategies including competition from generic medicines through licensing agreements, local production and price negotiations, a range of low and middle income countries, are beginning to succeed in getting drugs to people who need them,” he said.
“Maximizing access to lifesaving hepatitis C treatment is a priority for WHO,” Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s Department of HIV and Global Hepatitis Programme, said. “It is encouraging to see countries starting to make important progress. However, access still remains beyond the reach for most people.”
Among middle income countries, the price for a three month treatment of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir varies greatly. Costs range from 9,400 U.S. dollars in Brazil to 79,900 U.S. dollars in Romania.
High costs have led to treatment rationing in some countries, including in the European Union, where price agreements have not accounted for the full cost of treating the whole affected population.
“Today’s report on access, prices, patents and registration of hepatitis C medicines will help create the much needed market transparency which should support country efforts to increase access to DAAs,” said Hirnschall. “We hope countries will update their hepatitis treatment guidelines, work to remove barriers to access, and make these medicines available promptly for everyone in need.”
In May 2016, at the World Health Assembly, 194 countries adopted the first ever Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis, agreeing to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. The strategy includes a target to treat 80 percent of people in need by this date.