World Health Organization Highlights Cheaper Access to New Hepatitis C Regimens

By John Lavitt 05/20/15

Without price reductions, the World Health Organization fears that hep C drugs might not be accessible.

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In a clear attempt to overcome the extraordinarily high costs of hepatitis C treatment and democratize health care worldwide, the World Health Organization has added the latest HCV curative regimens to its essential medicines list. Despite taking this step, the UN agency stated that the drug prices need to be reduced. Without such price reductions, the hepatitis C treatment medications are never going to be accessible to patients worldwide.

Updated every two years, the WHO's Model List of Essential Medicines is increasingly used by governments and institutions to guide the development of their own essential medicines lists. Every medicine listed has been vetted for efficacy, safety, and quality. In addition, WHO performs a comparative cost-effectiveness evaluation with other alternatives in the same class of medicines. The most recent version was released at the beginning of May and included the emphasis on hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C is present in high- and lower-income countries alike, with higher concentrations in several middle- and low-income countries. Affecting more than 150 million people globally, the majority of people suffering from hepatitis C do happen to live in Third World countries. Such countries lack the necessary resources to cover healthcare costs related to treating the virus.

With a single pill of Gilead's Sovaldi costing $1,000 in the United States, the drug still remains out of reach to most American consumers as well. Insurance companies have been reluctant to cover the full cost of the treatment regimen. While Gilead has slashed its price for several low-income countries, campaigners say more needs to be done to ensure worldwide access. While many Third World countries cannot afford the drugs even with the lowered prices, middle-income countries are finding the treatment regimens equally difficult to access as well.

WHO assistant director general Marie-Paule Kieny explained the challenge presently being faced. “Treatments for hepatitis C are evolving rapidly, with several new, highly effective and safe medicines on the market and many in the development pipeline," Kieny said. "While some efforts have been made to reduce their price for low-income countries, without uniform strategies to make these medicines more affordable globally the potential for public health gains will be reduced considerably.”

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.