WASHINGTON – Treatments that cure hepatitis C are finally available,but for millions of Americans who have the disease the treatment may be out of reach. The National Minority Quality Forum wants to change that.Food and Drug Administration and have been successful in a small percentage of patients. This leaves insurance companies leaning toward the cheaper regimens that cost about $48,000 for a 12-week course of treatment versus upward of $84,000 for the new medications.
The new treatment reduces the degree of painful flu-like symptoms that the old medications caused. Those symptoms include muscle ache,fever,hair loss and exhaustion.
In an interview with hepmag.com,Johnson said he was fortunate to have great health care and wants to fight to ensure the same for all Americans. “I did not want to be just one of the chosen few” he said. “I think everyone should have the ability to become healthier.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,approximately 3.2 million people in the U.S. are infected with hepatitis C. Black Americans are twice as likely to have it as whites and baby boomers are five times more likely to have it than the rest of the population. In fact,the CDC urges all people born between 1945 and 1965 to be tested.
Screening of the blood supply didn’t begin until 1992,so many baby boomers could have been infected from contaminated blood in the 1970s and 1980s when hepatitis rates were highest. Since 70 percent of those infected don’t have any symptoms or don’t feel them for decades,researchers refer to the disease as a silent epidemic.
Hepatitis C can cause liver damage,cirrhosis,liver cancer and death.
The mortality rate associated with hepatitis C has now surpassed that of AIDS and an infected person can spread the disease to others through blood. Hepatitis A and B are both preventable by vaccines,but the hepatitis C virus mutates at a rate quicker than antibodies can protect cells.
Hadiyah Charles,hepatitis C advocacy manager for the Harm Reduction Coalition,said the next generation of medications will likely provide treatment options with even fewer side effects. She said she wants those treatments available for underprivileged communities to reduce racial and ethnic health disparities.
“The cost of the new medications will create a barrier to care and treatment,” Charles said. “We need to advocate for them to be able to reach this treatment and care. There’s nothing worse than knowing you can be healed and get well but not have access to it.”
“Clearly the time has come to act,and act now,” Johnson said.
The forum hopes to see a vaccine to prevent hepatitis C in the near future.
Reach reporter Cathryn Walker at [email protected] or (202) 326-9867. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.