Suf­fer­ers of hepati­tis C await cure

Ex­perts: An­nual day fo­cus­ing on virus draws at­ten­tion to lack of ef­fec­tive medicine in China

China Daily (USA) - - CHINA - By SHAN JUAN shan­juan@chi­nadaily.com.cn

China has nearly 10 mil­lion hepati­tis C suf­fer­ers, but only about 1 per­cent of them have ever re­ceived treat­ment, a lead­ing ex­pert said.

That could se­ri­ously un­der­mine a WHO global tar­get to treat at least 80 per­cent of pa­tients by 2030.

Hepati­tis C is a liver dis­ease that is caused by a virus. Chronic hepati­tis brings a high risk of de­vel­op­ing cir­rho­sis and liver can­cer. It is es­ti­mated by the WHO that about 400,000 peo­ple die each year in China from hepati­tis-re­lated com­pli­ca­tions.

“Pa­tient ac­cess to treat­ment, which re­mains un­avail­able, is key to fight the epi­demic,” said Zhuang Hui, an aca­demic with the Chi­nese Academy of En­gi­neer­ing.

World Hepati­tis Day falls on July 28 each year.

The most ef­fec­tive medicines, di­rect-act­ing an­tivi­rals that cure hepati­tis C vi­ral in­fec­tion, are avail­able glob­ally, ex­cept in China.

Many of those in­fected have gone overseas to seek med­i­ca­tion, ac­cord­ing to Wei Lai, head of the Hepa­tol­ogy In­sti­tute at Pek­ing Univer­sity.

In re­sponse, China’s drug au­thor­ity in May vowed an ac­cel­er­a­tion of the reg­is­tra­tion process for di­rect-act­ing an­tivi­ral treat­ment.

Zhuang, a mem­ber of the drug as­sess­ment ex­pert panel, said at least two di­rec­tact­ing an­tivi­rals would be ap­proved within the year and prob­a­bly hit the mar­ket early next year.

A pa­tient sur­named Bai, who got the hepati­tis C virus dur­ing a blood trans­fu­sion in 1989, said: “It’s long awaited, and Chi­nese pa­tients should have bet­ter treat­ment op­tions, which pa­tients abroad all have ac­cess to.”

To sur­vive the dis­ease, he bought di­rect-act­ing an­tivi­rals from abroad and was cured last year.

The suc­cess rate for the cur­rent stan­dard treat­ment in China is be­tween 44 and 70 per­cent, but the treat­ment is usu­ally fraught with ma­jor side ef­fects and of­ten takes a long time, said Duan Zhong­ping, vice-pres­i­dent of Bei­jing You’an Hos­pi­tal.

Di­rect-act­ing an­tivi­rals, how­ever, can clear the virus over an av­er­age 12-week course of treat­ment, and­with few ad­verse re­ac­tions.

WHO China rep­re­sen­ta­tive Bern­hard Schwart­lander said: “An­other chal­lenge now is also to make sure that peo­ple liv­ing with hepati­tis avoid cat­a­strophic ex­pen­di­tures in or­der to get the treat­ment and care that they ur­gently need.”

Zhuang agreed, cit­ing a hepati­tis C cure by Gilead Sciences.

The medicine costs more than $50,000 in the US and $1,000 in In­dia to cure the pa­tient due to a tiered pric­ing mech­a­nism.

The price in China might be around 6,000yuan($925), he said, cit­ing pre­vi­ous dis­cus­sions with Gilead.

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