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But the only deterrent is the prohibitively high price of the DAAs with a 12 weeks Sofosbuvir treatment costing US $84,000 in the US. At these prices, access in low and middle-income countries is likely to be extremely limited. Moreover the new medicines have yet to be licensed in most countries.
Generic production of drugs for HCV can reduce the cost drastically, as had happened in the case of anti retrovirals for HIV. A study done at Liverpool University shows that a 12-week course of sofosbuvir could cost as low as $68-$136. But a word of caution here from Dr Gourdas Choudhuri, Director and Head of Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatobiliary Sciences at Fortis Healthcare, India: ‘While generics are well established for chemical compounds, where efficacy can be tested, HCV drugs have to be tested in terms of bio efficacy too, and not just by way of chemical structures. So there will need to be a little more reassurance from companies launching generic interferons about their effectiveness.’
Nonetheless all PLHIV should be tested for HCV. A new global resolution endorsed by all 194 member states at the 67th session of WHA in May 2014, has called for enhanced action to improve equitable access to viral hepatitis prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and requested the WHO Secretariat to facilitate access to affordable treatment.
During a CNS press conference at the 19th International AIDS Conference in 2012, Eldred Tellis, Director of the Sankalp Rehabilitation Trust, Mumbai, India, had rightly said that, “It makes public health sense to link HCV prevention efforts to HIV programmes. Prevention and harm reduction efforts for HIV and HCV with vulnerable communities should go hand in hand. Unless this is done, HCV infections will rise even though HIV transmission rates reduce, particularly among injecting drug users – the most vulnerable community.”
The HIV Programme is committed to increase its focus on viral hepatitis and HIV co-infection in 2014-2015. Let us hope that the forthcoming XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) in Melbourne will provide renewed impetuous to making timely viral hepatitis diagnosis and treatment affordable and accessible to all those in need of it.
Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service (CNS)
(The author is the Managing Editor of Citizen News Service – CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA and received her editing training in Singapore. She has earlier worked with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India’s prestigious Loreto Convent. She also co-authored and edited publications on gender justice, childhood TB, childhood pneumonia, Hepatitis C Virus and HIV, and MDR-TB. Email: [email protected], website: www.citizen-news.org)
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