Life-saving hepatitis C drug approved, but cost is high
Life-saving: the sofosbuvir molecule has been approved in the US and Europe for the treatment of hepatitis C
Life-saving hepatitis C drug approved, but cost is high IRIN
IRIN on Saturday, January 11, 2014
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Following approvals in the US and Europe this month of a new drug to treat hepatitis C, activists are pushing for the medication to be made available in poor countries, a development reminiscent of the activism that forced down HIV/AIDS drug prices a decade ago in Brazil, South Africa and Thailand. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that as many as 185 million people are infected with hepatitis C, which is often called a “viral time bomb” because it can exist, undiagnosed, in a person’s body for many years without causing symptoms. 

According to the Open Society Foundations (OSF), more than 350,000 people die every year from liver disease related to the virus, and every year an estimated three to four million more people are infected.

Many of these people are co-infected with HIV; the illnesses are both blood-borne and have shared routes of transmission, particularly injecting drug use.

Unlike HIV, hepatitis C can be cured. But current treatment options have serious side effects, do not always work and are unaffordable for most people. The existing treatment, pegylated interferon, which is manufactured by Roche and Merck, can cost as much as US$18,000 for a 48-week course. 

Interferon, which must be injected, can, in combination with the drug ribavirin, cure 40-70 percent of patients who use it. But its high cost has kept it out of reach for most patients, except in Egypt and Thailand, where the governments were able to negotiate significant price reductions with drug manufacturers.

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