TREATMENT for hepatitis C became more affordable today after four new medicines were added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) by the Federal Government in a billion-dollar scheme aimed at helping almost a quarter of a million Australians living with it.
Health Minister Sussan Ley today announced people living with hep C would now pay just $6.20 a prescription if they were a concession card holder or $38.30 a prescription as a general patient for four different cures listed on the PBS.
Hepatitis C is an infectious blood borne virus that attacks the liver, causing inflammation, and may lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), end-stage liver disease, liver cancer and, in some cases, death. It has six different genotypes.
Around 230,501 Australians live with hep C, with about 2500 dying annually from it.
It is estimated that one in 10 HIV positive Australians also have hepatitis C – but many are not aware of it. A higher number of cases are occurring in men with HIV, and if left undiagnosed and untreated, it can make it harder to take HIV medication.
Experts agree the therapies newly listed on the PBS can cure hepatitis C in the major genotypes, have exceptionally high cure rates exceeding 90 per cent, shorter treatment durations and far fewer side-effects than previous therapies.
Experts also believe these medicines hold the key to halting increasing rates of serious liver disease and even eliminating hepatitis C as a public health concern in Australia within a generation— but only if treatment rates increase significantly and matched with ongoing investment in hepatitis C prevention programs.
“Australia is one of the first countries in the world to publicly subsidise these cures for every one of our quarter-of-a-million hep C sufferers, no matter what their condition or how they contracted it,” Ley said.
“Essentially one in every 100 Australians has hep C, with another 10,000 people diagnosed every year, and they come from all walks of life. With this announcement there is great hope we can not only halt the spread of this deadly infectious virus, but eliminate it altogether in time.
“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.”
Health groups are labelling March 1 as a watershed moment in Australian health history, commending the Federal Government on the move to subsidise the cost of the hep C medicines but also warning that many people may not be aware of the new treatments and its benefits.
“The Federal Government is to be congratulated on making breakthrough hepatitis C medicines available. Now the focus must be on increasing hepatitis C treatment rates to ensure this investment saves and transforms lives,” Hepatitis Australia chief executive Helen Tyrrell said.
“People aged over 40 may not have symptoms of liver disease, but if they are not engaged in hepatitis C care they remain at high risk of silently progressing to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. It is vital that the message goes out loud and clear that there has never been a better time to treat and cure hepatitis C.
“We urge all people who know they are living with hepatitis C to seek a liver check-up and discuss their treatment options with their doctor.”