As we mark World Hepatitis Day (July 28th), people living with hepatitis C virus (HCV) have reason to feel hopeful. New cures for HCV are now available, and more effective treatment options will hit the market in the future. Despite the increased hope, there is concern. New cures are very expensive, raising questions about patient access to treatment.
How will treatment decisions be made?
Patricia Bacon, Chair of Action Hepatitis Canada, shares these patient concerns. “At one time, people living with hepatitis C had no choice. The ‘gold standard’ for treatment was a combination of two drugs that were not easily tolerated by many people, and only about half of those who were treated were cured. Now we have these amazing treatments that will cure almost everyone, yet the cost is outrageous – starting at $55,000 for a twelve-week course”. Bacon says because of the high cost of treatment, not all people can be treated. To do so would bankrupt provincial and territorial health programs. “So how will treatment decisions be made”, Bacon wonders?
Treatment prices must come down
In developing countries, government health programs negotiate huge reductions in the cost of treatments, allowing for more people to be treated. In the developed world, drug manufacturers believe that governments can and will pay much higher costs for drugs. After all, they argue, drug companies invest heavily in bringing a drug to market and are entitled to a reasonable return on their investment.
“We have a cure for a virus that kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide every year”, states Bacon. “Very few drugs can guarantee they’ll take a life-long and sometimes life-threatening condition and wipe it out. Treatment prices must come down so that more people can be treated”.
About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C, a virus that damages the liver, can cause debilitating symptoms, liver disease and early death, often going unrecognized, undiagnosed and untreated for years. It is poorly understood, with inadequately funded research, poorly supported prevention initiatives and limited access to treatment, care and support.
Action Hepatitis Canada (www.actionhepatitiscanada.ca), a national coalition of organizations, engages government, policy makers, and civil society to promote hepatitis B and C prevention, improve access to care and treatment, build health-professional capacity, and support community-based groups and initiatives.