When new direct-acting antivirals for hepatitis C virus (HCV) came out two years ago, there was widespread fear among pubic health experts that only the richest people in the world would be able to afford them. However, a recent announcement by the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that more than one million people in low- and middle-income countries have received treatment, thanks to a series of international access initiatives put into motion by the international health group.
WHO’s latest announcement, titled Global Report on Access to Hepatitis C Treatment: Focus on Overcoming Barriers, shows how policymaking, hepatitis C advocacy, generic competition and pricing negotiations are addressing an international epidemic of chronic liver disease, which affects more than 80 million people around the world. The report states that a wide range of developing nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Egypt, Georgia, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Thailand and Ukraine, are beginning to succeed in getting HCV treatment to those who need them, despite the high cost of treatment.
Current next-generation hepatitis C treatments boast cure rates of nearly 95 percent. However, the drugs can cost more than $85,000 per patient—without rebates or price negotiations—making them largely unaffordable and inaccessible, even to patients in the most high-income countries.
However, the WHO report states that licensing agreements and generic production deals made over the last two years have helped mitigate many of these costs in the developing world. For instance, the price of a 12-week course of hepatitis C treatment in Egypt now costs less than $200. But there are still huge differences between what other countries are paying for hepatitis C treatment, with costs ranging from $9,400 in Brazil to $79,900 in Romania.
High prices have led to treatment rationing in some countries, including the United States and the European Union, where international health authorities have not yet negotiated. However, the latest WHO report suggests that by using similar strategies, even higher-income countries may also soon be able to negotiate cheaper prices for the cures.