The revolution in generic drugs means that a 12-week course of drugs to cure hepatitis C can be manufactured for just US$50 – as low as the cost of a plane ticket on many low-cost airlines. Furthermore, new data shows that these generic copies are just as effective as the branded medicines. Yet restrictions and patent issues around the world mean that hardly any patients can access the drugs at these low costs.
“As there are around 70 million people infected with hepatitis C worldwide, the basic cost of the drugs to treat everyone infected globally, at $50 each, would be around US $3.5 billion,” explains Dr Andrew Hill, a pharmacology expert from the University of Liverpool, UK. This represents less than a fraction of 1% of the global health budget of some US$ 8 trillion.
Countries must massively step up their screening efforts, or they will simply run out of people to treat – a diagnostic ‘burn-out’. The proportion of patients with hepatitis C who know they have it ranges from 44% in high-income countries to just 9% in low-income countries. He concludes that lessons should be learned from the HIV epidemic to successfully end the hepatitis C epidemic worldwide.