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Eliminating Hepatitis - Another Non-Affordable Target?

Today is World Hepatitis Day. According to the World Health Organization there are an estimated 400 million people infected with viral hepatitis B and C and around 1.45 million die annually from their consequences. The main focus of this day is to raise awareness and to promote access to prevention, testing and treatment for people affected by hepatitis. The slogan of this year´s WHD encourages countries to move to the final goal in fighting the virus to “Eliminate Hepatitis".

In May 2016 the World Health Assembly adopted its Global health sector strategy on viral hepatitis 2016-2021 which indicated the recognition of viral hepatitis on the global agenda. The strategy aims to eliminate viral hepatitis with reducing the incidence by 90% until 2030, as well as by providing treatment for 8 million people by 2020, which should reduce the incidence by 30%.

And for the very first time this goal is achievable. There is an effective vaccine against hepatitis B, and there are new direct acting agents (DAAs) for the treatment of hepatitis C, which cures the infection in over 90% of the cases.  Existing treatment options allow people who live with hepatitis to be cured within 12 weeks. There is no need any more to go through the energy and time consuming interferon based treatment with much lower success rates. Or at least there shouldn’t be any need but accessing treatment remains challenging in most of the countries.

For most countries the DAAs are not affordable due to their extreme high prices and even those countries where treatment is provided are often forced to prioritize and patients need to wait for later stages of infection in order to be eligible for treatment as scaling up treatment for all in need would jeopardize their health budgets. This directly impacts not only their health but also their quality of life. By creating such obstacles states force patients to look for other, often semi-legal ways to obtain the lifesaving treatment, for instance buying through internet or buyers’ clubs. It seems that we have to experience this over and over again in order for the national health systems to recognize the importance of access and affordable medicine.

AIDS Action Europe identified affordability of medicines and diagnostics as a key priority to work on in its Strategic Framework for 2015-2017. AAE produced a training manual and has already organized 4 trainings on the ways the CSO can advocate and make impact to ensure wider access to medication, including for hepatitis.  Recognizing the need for integrative approach of tackling HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis and tuberculosis infections in Europe, the AIDS Action Europe Steering Committee decided to include viral hepatitis and TB as mono infections in its Strategic Programme for 2018 – 2021.

During the International AIDS Society Conference in Paris, treatment activists published an open letter to address Gilead, one of the producers of DAAs to reduce their prices and stop creating further IP barriers towards accessing life-saving and preventive medicines.

For more information check-out the World Hepatitis Day website

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