According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 130 and 150 million people worldwide now have chronic Hepatitis C and 350,000 to 500,000 people die each year from related liver diseases. Here’s the latest news on hepatitis C treatments and other developments.
Access to a cure
New drugs with a cure rate higher than 90 percent have been the big hepatitis C story this year. Getting almost as much attention, though, is the cost of those drugs in the U.S.–about $1,000 a pill, or $84,000 for a typical 12-week treatment regimen. This has health officials, insurance companies, and lawmakers scrambling to figure out who should carry the brunt of the cost so people with the condition can get access to the treatment. Many public and private insurers, however, are restricting access to only people who already have serious liver damage.
There is a big push for testing of Baby Boomers – the population most likely to be affected by the virus due to a higher risk of blood supply contamination in times past–yet access to the highly effective drugs remains challenging due to the high cost. Medicaid receives a 23.1 percent discount for all brand drug purchases and the Department of Veterans Affairs receives a 44 percent discount, but it still is targeting treatment to the patients in the late stages of hepatitis C. Health officials and experts are increasingly worried that the price of the drugs along with more people becoming diagnosed with the virus will soon become a significant problem.
Stopping the spread of hepatitis C is crucial in lessening health care spending on the expensive treatments for the virus and the complications that arise from it. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne disease but can be spread through sex as well as contact with razors or toothbrushes, though mainly it is spread through intravenous drug use. This is why Pennsylvania has taken steps to reduce the spread of the virus by providing needle exchanges. Needle exchanges are a service that heroin drug users use to obtain sterile, clean syringes in exchange for their used ones. There is certainly controversy surrounding these exchanges with difficulties in funding for these services due to the perceived encouragement of drug use. However, health officials argue that needle exchanges have helped curb spread of viruses through intravenous drug use, including HIV.
Benefits of curing hepatitis C in prisons
Curing prison inmates of hepatitis C can ultimately result in a population much less likely to spread the virus when they reenter the community. While there are objections to this approach due to the cost to the government, public health experts argue that there should be long-term savings by helping to prevent the spread of the virus in the general public.
Will hepatitis C become a rare disease?
According to a new study , with current screening and treatments for hepatitis C in place, the virus could be a rare one by the year 2036. If methods are improved, this could happen 10 years earlier, the researchers concluded. Scientists used models incorporating current numbers of HCV cases along with screening numbers to predict long-term prevalence of the disease and found the promising results. Data has suggested that more aggressive screening along with better access to treatment earlier on will accelerate the reduction of HCV cases in the future. It is also important to consider management options into the equation to prevent more cases of hepatitis C – which is where curing the virus in prisons and through needle exchanges can come into play.
Yumhee Park is a former content producer for HealthCentral.com.