New cure treatments for hepatitis C will now be available for every Australian living with the disease thanks to a landmark Federal Government decision.
Currently costing patients thousands of dollars, the direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) will now be available through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS), making Australia one of the first countries to make them publicly subsidised.
World-leading Burnet Institute hepatitis C researcher and Head of the Institute’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard said this game-changing decision would allow everyone with hepatitis C to be treated and cured, stopping transmission and eliminating it from Australia within 10 years.
“Many other countries have put restrictions on who can receive these treatments, or the cost has been too prohibitive. That’s meant only a few people have been able to access the treatments,” she said.
“Next year, the World Health Organization will put out elimination targets for hepatitis C. I was part of the group that did that modelling which concluded we can actually eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 with these new drugs,” she said.
Professor Hellard said she remembers when life-saving HIV medications were introduced in 1996 and these DAAs are one of those breakthroughs.
“It’s far better for the community and we save money in the long run if we take evidence-based approaches to diseases like hepatitis C,” she explained.
“We also need high-quality harm reduction, needle and syringe programs, opioid substitution therapy and combined with these treatments, and hopefully a vaccine in the future, we will eliminate hepatitis C.
“Then we don’t have to worry about it, we save lives and money.”
More than 230,000 Australians are living with hepatitis C and there are around about 700 deaths every year.
Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Sussan Ley MP said hepatitis C takes a heavy toll on patients and their families, but also the health system and the economy.
“We are currently seeing around 10,000 Australians diagnosed every year. As a result, deaths from primary liver cancer, for which untreated hepatitis C is a major driver, are rising faster than for any other cancer,” she said.
“It’s therefore important we tackle this disease head on, and that includes providing these medicines to all Australians, particularly vulnerable populations where rates of infection are high.”
Multiple drug combinations would be listed to ensure cures for all of the hepatitis C strains were made available to the entire patient population through the PBS, no matter what their condition of how they contracted it.
These include: Sofosbuvir with ledipasvir (Harvoni); Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi), Daclatasvir (Daklinza) and Ribavirin (Ibavyr).
Professor Hellard spoke with Libbi Gore on 774 ABC Melbourne today regarding the announcement.
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