Sun, Apr 15, 2018 - Page 5 News List

WHO urges global hepatitis C effort at Paris congress

AFP, PARIS

The WHO on Friday urged governments to attack hepatitis C with more urgency and more money, saying that about 400,000 people die of the liver disease every year, as only a smattering get the medicine they need.

Only about 3 million people from an estimated 71 million hepatitis C virus (HCV) carriers received the treatment they needed, the UN’s health body said at an International Liver Congress in Paris.

“We very much encourage leaders in countries and politicians, policymakers, to ... include hepatitis C treatment into their broader health portfolio and really also find the domestic resources that are needed to take this forward,” said Gottfried Hirnschall, head of the WHO’s global hepatitis program.

The price of a cure ranges from about US$200 to several thousand US dollars per person — excluding diagnostic tests and healthcare salaries and infrastructure.

However, “by really frontloading and treating people, and treating them as quickly as possible ... you save costs later,” Hirnschall told reporters. “You save costs that you have if somebody progresses to liver disease or other diseases that require hospitalization, in some instances very costly liver transplants, [or] tertiary care.”

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, and curing it is the best way to prevent virus spread.

HCV is most commonly passed on through infected blood — either by soiled needles used to inject legal or illegal drugs, or blood transfusions.

Only about one in five people even know they are infected. Many go on to develop cancer or cirrhosis of the liver.

A new category of drug called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), described by Hirnschall as “revolutionary,” can cure all six major HCV strains, with a success rate of more than 90 percent.

It comes as a once-daily pill taken for eight to 12 weeks.

If all infected people could get it, the treatment would slash liver cancer deaths by 80 percent, the WHO has said.

Some countries, such as Egypt, Pakistan, China and Brazil, have “really started to increase access” to HCV medicines, said Hirnschall — some relying on special licensing agreements that allows for the production of cheaper, generic versions.

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