A leading liver specialist at Auckland Hospital is calling for Pharmac to expand funding for treatment of Hepatitis C to reduce deaths linked to the deadly disease.
Professor Ed Gane made the comment on World Hepatitis Day saying publically funding proven new treatments would almost immediately save lives.
“Around 40 percent of New Zealanders [with Hepatitis C], that’s 20-thousand people, are infected with genotypes or strains that don’t respond to current funded treatment,” says Professor Gane.
“Having a treatment which will cure everyone will help with awareness and getting people in [to be tested].
“Not only does it stop it progressing to cirrhosis and all those nasty complications but it also makes them feel better because it’s the virus in the blood which makes people feel tired.. and in many cases it can make them feel depressed.”
Last July Pharmac began publicly funding Viekira Pak, a combination of four antiviral medicines that treats Hepatitis C genotype 1, the most common type of the disease in New Zealand.
Professor Gane says it was an enormous advance for people living in New Zealand living with that strain of Hepatitis C.
“In the first 12 months since we had these oral treatments funded by Pharmac over 2000 people have been treated with cure rates approaching 100 percent,” he says.
Professor Gane says the move has also helped with awareness of the disease and encouraged more people to come forward to be tested.
“People now know there is a safe and very effective cure so people who know that they may be at risk for Hepatitis C are coming forward to be tested and to be treated,” says Professor Gane.
“The message I want to get out for World Hepatitis Awareness Day is that anyone who thinks they may have been exposed to Hepatitis C in the past should come forward and get a test.
“It’s a very simple test and it’s very reliable.
“It will change their lives, improve their survival and it will make them feel better.”