One of the key messages of today July 28th, World Hepatitis Day, is simply this: hepatitis C is a preventable and treatable disease.
The World Health Organization created World Hepatitis Day to raise awareness about the massive number of people already infected with one of several hepatitis viruses, including the hepatitis C, and how anyone can take steps to avoid infection as well as the importance of getting tested and starting treatment. This year’s theme “4000 Voices” represents the 4,000 deaths from hepatitis occurring each day worldwide from hepatitis.
Several new medications recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) put a hepatitis C cure within reach for most patients. However, there are barriers at both the individual and systemic level that can keep this cure from becoming a reality.
First is the fact that hepatitis C tends to be a silent disease, without obvious symptoms for up to 20 years after the initial infection. This is why awareness campaigns aiming to get every adult born in the years 1945-1965 tested are so important. More than 75% of those infected with hepatitis C in the U.S. are Baby Boomers.
Second, the new hepatitis C treatments, while effective, are admittedly very expensive, which is a burden for cash-strapped state-level Medicaids and employers still recovering from a long recession. As a taxpayer and business owner, I can see how this becomes a struggle with hard choices for all stakeholders. One way that Medicaids are trying to walk this line of funding treatment, according to research published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, is by limiting access to certain hepatitis C medications, by funneling patients only through specialist providers, staging liver disease, and ensuring drug and alcohol abstinence.
State-level barriers to accessing hepatitis C treatment have evolved over the past few months (such as the easing of previous barriers related to HIV co-infection and allowing treatment at lower stages of liver fibrosis), which is heartening. They are generally becoming more in line with the recommendations from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the leading organization of scientists and health care professionals committed to preventing and curing liver disease.
Today of all days – on World Hepatitis Day – my hope is for any patient who needs treatment for hepatitis C to be able to get on the path to better health.
Stephen C. Vogt, Pharm.D.
President and CEO
BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy
What do you think?
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Barua S, Greenwald R, Grebely J, et al. Restrictions for Medicaid reimbursement of sofosbuvir for the treatment of hepatitis C virus infection in the United States. Ann Intern Med June 30, 2015 (online).