New call for affordable hep C treatments.

Source: The Australian

AUSTRALIA ought to lead the world by immediately making life-saving hepatitis C medicines affordable to everyone, says an expert.

AT the fourth International Symposium on Hepatitis Care in Substance Users began in Sydney on Wednesday, Associate Professor Jason Grebely echoed a call made last week by 27 health organisations.

They urged Health Minister Sussan Ley to intervene in price negotiations so breakthrough cures are included on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme before the end of 2015.

New generation hepatitis C medicines offer a cure to nine out of 10 people, thereby preventing escalating rates of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.

Prof Grebely, from The Kirby Institute at UNSW, also called for an expansion of successful interventions such as needle and syringe programs and opioid substitution therapy.

"In Australia, there is an unprecedented rise in liver disease burden and deaths due to hepatitis C," he told AAP.

"The majority of infections occur among people who inject drugs."

About 230,000 Australians have chronic hepatitis C, with about 60 per cent of existing cases and 80 per cent of new ones involving people who inject or have injected drugs, he said.

"Without greatly enhanced treatment access, high level hepatitis C transmission will continue, and the rising burden of liver disease will lead to substantial costs to healthcare systems."

The symposium will be told of new international research showing the cost-effectiveness of curing hepatitis C in people who inject drugs.

Prof Grebely cited the "absolutely ridiculous" situation in the United States where people who have recently used drugs or alcohol are excluded from receiving reimbursements for new hepatitis C medicines.

"Australia is in a very unique position to be one of the world leaders in terms of providing broad access to interferon-free therapy," he said.