Access to hepatitis C medicine

Published in the Bulletin of the WHO

The Bulletin of the World Health Organization has published the latest study from the Access to Medicine Foundation: on how the world’s largest pharma companies are improving access to hepatitis C treatment. These companies have an opportunity to play a central role in curbing, and perhaps ending, a global epidemic.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). There is a global epidemic of hepatitis C, with approximately 185 million people estimated to be infected in 20051 and 350 000–500 000 deaths estimated annually. Over 80% of those affected by the disease live in low- and middle income countries, especially in central, north and west Africa.3,4 Several middle-income countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Pakistan have a high burden of hepatitis C. HCV is most often spread when infected blood enters the body. High-risk populations include intravenous drug-users and recipients of blood transfusions in poorly controlled environments; but the virus is also found in the general population. There are six genotypes of HCV, with distributions varying by region. It is possible for a person to be infected with multiple genotypes; 55–85% of people will develop chronic infection and about one third of these, if not treated, will eventually develop liver cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma. Approximately 80% of newly-infected people are asymptomatic, which makes it difficult to diagnose and treat those who go on to develop chronic infection.

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