01 Mar 2016
Lifesaving hepatitis C drugs now listed on PBS
Tuesday, 1 March marked the beginning of a new era in hepatitis C treatment in Australia – lifesaving drugs were made available to all people living with the virus after being officially listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
The new treatments, called direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), have a cure rate of over 90 per cent and work faster than previously available drugs with very minimal side effects.
More than 230,000 Australians live with hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause liver cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer – the fastest growing cancer in Australia.
Only about two per cent of people with hepatitis C access treatment, and between five and 10 Victorians die each week due to illnesses associated with chronic viral hepatitis.
Associate Professor Benjamin Cowie, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute and Royal Melbourne Hospital infectious diseases physician said this was a historic moment in the fight against viral hepatitis in Australia and will save thousands of lives in the coming years.
“For many people living with viral hepatitis, for who previous interferon-based therapy was ineffective or too toxic, today represents the promise of a future without hepatitis C,” Associate Professor Cowie said.
However, Associate Professor Cowie believes more must be done to ensure easy access to the treatments.
“Ensuring that training and support is given to primary care doctors and nurses to enable people to access care in the community without the need to attend hospitals or specialist clinics is essential,” he said.
“Most HIV antiretroviral scripts in Australia are written by GPs who have developed special expertise in this area of medicine; there is no reason why this should not also be the case for hepatitis C.”
He also believes that such access in the community is critical to realise the public health promise afforded by DAAs.
“We are entering an era where we can eradicate hepatitis C as a public health concern in the next two decades. This is a huge achievement, but we need to work hard to ensure the benefits are shared with all people living with hepatitis C globally.”