In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) set a goal to increase screening and treatment of hepatitis B virus (HBV) in an effort to reduce liver-disease-related deaths globally by 65 percent. Is it worth it to try to achieve these goals in the United States? Although expensive and time-consuming, a recent study published in Health Affairs suggests yes, The Conversation reports.
In the United States, hepatitis B affects an estimated 1 million people, of which only about 33 percent know they have the disease, and only around 15 percent of those are receiving treatment. HBV, which largely affects immigrants from Asian and African countries, currently costs the U.S.
For this latest study, public health researchers at Stanford University set out to calculate whether it would be cost-effective for U.S. doctors to execute WHO’s challenge. They built a mathematical model of immigration patterns and hepatitis B progression to simulate what would likely happen when immigrants to the United States waited until they became ill before seeking treatment. They then compared these health costs to what disease progression would look like if health care workers met the WHO’s goals for early diagnosis and treatment.
To meet these goals, researchers noted that it would take a massive effort in screening and prevention. The U.S. would have to conduct blood tests on nearly 14 million foreign-born individuals across the country over the next seven to 12 years, diagnosing 90 percent and treating 80 percent of immigrants who were discovered to have the virus.
By the end of the report, researchers estimated that insurers and patients would have to spend between $700 and $800 million over the next 50 years on hepatitis B screening and treatment. That seems like a major cost—
How is this possible? Researchers estimated that dramatic increases in HBV testing and care would prevent between 80,000 and 100,000 cases of cirrhosis, between 50,000 and 60,000 cases of liver cancer, and 80,000 to 100,000 hepatitis B–related deaths over the next half-century.
Researchers in the study also noted that dramatic reductions in the price of hepatitis B treatment over the past year have made these results possible. As generic medications continue to become available, upfront costs will likely shrink even further. The study concludes by stating that increasing the screening and treatment of hepatitis B in the United States ought to be prioritized.