Around 185 million people in the world are infected with Hepatitis C, and the epidemic is currently spreading at a very fast pace : between three and four million people are newly infected every year. Yet, Hepatitis C is a curable disease.
But most of the people infected live in low- or middle-income countries and do not have access to diagnoses, nor treatments. Thus, the vast majority of infected people do not know they are carrying the virus, and even then, they would not be cured because the treatments remain affordable.
As a matter of fact, two laboratories (Roche and Merck) have sole control over Hepatitis C treatments and keep prices excessively high, which highly impedes access in Southern countries. The 48-week treatment reaches US $20,000 in some countries, although in Egypt, where an alternative treatment (Reinferon Retard®) commercialized by the laboratory Minapharm exists, it is available at less than US $2, 500.
As for the new developing therapies, laboratories implied that they would sell a 12-week treatment around US $100,000, even though a study presented during the latest IAS Conference on HIV held in Kuala Lumpur shows that the production costs of said treatment only amount to US $100 or US $200 .
Furthermore, drug users are the most vulnerable to Hepatitis C infection, they are marginalized and criminalized, which take them further away from treatments when they are available : hardly 2 to 4% of them have access to treatment. Just like the Aids epidemic, this health disaster is magnified by governments’ inaction, governments that do not want to take care of the health of people whose behaviors are deemed immoral. Even though the delivery of sterile material reduces HIV and Hepatitis infections, less than 4% of drug users have access to it. Moreover, drug users are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection, which doubles the progression of Hepatitis C.
The WHO is missing
Against this epidemic, the World Health Organization stands out by its inaction. Only recently did it include PEGylated Interferon, the main component of the current standard therapy against HCV, in the Essential Medicines List (EML). But the publishing of guidelines concerning screenings and treatments is still to come. Several NGOs from the HepCoalition have recently launched a campaign to draw the attention of the WHO’s head, Margaret Chan, and to ask her to ensure a proper leadership in fighting against HCV (sign the petition) ; and the NGO Act Up-Basel calls on communities worldwide, people affected and/or concerned, to directly write to their WHO country/regional office.
That the WHO exerts a proper leadership in the fight against HCV, and notably :
- That it publishes as soon as possible guidelines concerning the screening and treating of HCV ;
- That it adds the new therapies to the EML as soon as they are on the market ;
- That it speeds up the work with a view to make the prequalifications of alternative and biosimilar treatments easier ;
That the laboratories Roche and Merck cease their criminal profits made on the lives of ill people and that they lower their prices ;
That governments cease to discriminate and criminalize drug users and that they put in place focused prevention campaigns, notably on the delivery of sterile material.
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