Monday 22 January 2018

Hepatitis C patients to get life-saving drugs in aim to eliminate infection in Ireland

The hepatitis C virus infects and damages the liver.
The hepatitis C virus infects and damages the liver.

Eilish O’Regan

Another 1,500 patients with Hepatitis C are to be offered expensive drugs to cure them of the virus, it was announced today.

The powerful drugs, which have a 90pc success rate, have already saved the lives of 700 people with the virus which can attack the liver.

The HSE announced plans today it will now extend the clinical eligibility to these Directly Acting Antivirals (DAAs) drug treatments as part of the next phase of the treatment plan to eliminate Hepatitis C in Ireland by 2026.

The move was welcomed by Minister for Health Simon Harris saying €30m of funding will be spent on the treatments.

The hope is that all patients who got the virus through contaminated blood will have started the treatment by the end of the year, he added.

Professor Suzanne Norris, Consultant Hepatologist and Clinical Lead for the National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme says, “We are moving to the next phase and extending the clinical eligibility for treatment criteria. This new phase enables us to include an additional 1,500 people to the treatment programme based on their clinical diagnosis.

“As a clinician who has been working with patients living with hepatitis C for many years, I am delighted that we are now in a position to offer this extremely effective and successful drug treatment to more patients.

“It is not often that we say we can cure a patient of a disease but these new medicines offer the chance of cure in excess of 90pc of patients who complete a course of treatment.”

“Prior to the development of directly acting antivirals, clearance rates of HCV with drug regimens available would have been in the range of 50-75pc, and lower in patients with cirrhosis. Those treatments, which required a weekly injection, were of long duration and associated with many side effects.

“Our goal is to continue in the short to medium term to extend treatment eligibility based on clinical need to patients with moderate liver disease, while continuing to treat patients with more advanced liver disease.”

Currently there are an estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people in Ireland chronically infected with hepatitis C, more than half of whom are not aware of their infection, the stage of their disease and, in some cases, are not linked to care.

14,500 people have been tested and clinically diagnosed with Hepatitis C and have been notified to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre since Hepatitis C became a notifiable disease in 2004.

However, epidemiological research indicates that the prevalence of the disease could affect up to twice that amount with approximately 700-800 new cases being notified each year. 

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