Special to The Times
The consequences of the hepatitis C virus can be devastating if people are unable to access treatment. Left untreated, they can experience irreversible liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. Thankfully, investments in pharmaceutical research have led to new oral medications that allows individuals to be cured in as little as eight weeks, with few to no side effects. These medications have become more affordable as the price continues to drop due to competition.
Here in Washington, we know all too well the impact of hepatitis C. From 2010 to 2016, the number of reports of new infections (acute cases) rose by more than 280% statewide, with most occurring among young persons who inject drugs. Nationwide, cases of hepatitis rose by 350% during that same time period. These are upsetting statistics, but we know how to change this trend.
The World Health Organization and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have released reports showing that eliminating viral hepatitis as a public-health threat is possible both globally and nationally, and not only saves lives, but also saves money in the long run. However, elimination requires concerted efforts by states and communities, and an investment in resources. The U.S. has recently demonstrated this with the federal effort of “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,” which hopes to reduce new HIV infections by 90% in 10 years. We need a similar initiative to eliminate hepatitis C.
In some state Medicaid programs, access to the medications that cure hepatitis C has been restricted to only those individuals who have progressed to more advanced liver disease. Not only is this against Medicaid policy, it causes undue harm. Treatment restrictions are a significant barrier to eliminating the virus nationally.
Washington state has heeded the call to eliminate hepatitis and is taking action. Last year, Gov. Jay Inslee called on the state to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030, following the same goal the World Health Organization set in 2016. A plan titled “Hep C Free Washington” seeks to eliminate hepatitis C in Washington state by 2030 and will be released in the next few weeks. This July, the state also took an enormous step in these efforts when it finalized a new contract with drug manufacturer AbbVie to bring resources to the state to eliminate the virus. Under the agreement, the state has a guaranteed net unit price up to a certain treatment threshold after which it pays a nominal price for an unlimited supply of hepatitis C treatments. A similar agreement was recently reached between Louisiana and a subsidiary of the drug manufacturer Gilead.
TO CONTINUE READING: https://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/a-bold-new-approach-to-eliminating-hepatitis-c-as-a-public-health-threat/