Hepatitis C medication remains beyond reach

Price control may ensure patients complete their course of medication

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Friday 26 July 2013

Umesh Sharma, 48, a resident of Delhi, was on drugs and would share syringes with his friends. He eventually discovered he was HIV positive in 1989; he was diagnosed with hepatitis C two years later. Sharma has stopped taking hepatitis medication for a year now as he finds it unaffordable. Though he has started developing other complications such as a frequently dipping haemoglobin level, he just cannot afford the medicines.

Unlike HIV, hepatitis C is a treatable disease. However, the cost of the drugs required render treatment unaffordable for most. According to Sharma, a dose of pegylated interferon, manufactured by pharmaceutical firm Roche, is administered each week for 48 weeks, and each dose costs Rs 23,100. The other drug Ribavirin, is to be administered continuously for 42 weeks, but its cost—between Rs 6,000 and 7,000 per month—makes it unaffordable for most.

“I took medicines for nine months and then stopped, but the problem continues,” rues Sharma. “I left my job once because of my ill health. I now get a few consultancy assignments for some organisations, but these are only for around 5-10 days,” he adds.

Patients who take these medicines demand that the government intervene and ensure that the prices of these drugs are reduced. While price control may be the answer, Sharma further suggests another method. He says the government should negotiate with patent holders regarding the price of medicine.

This effort will help many people. Roche holds the patent for pegylated interferon for hepatitis C treatment. A private company should not be allowed to sell life saving drugs at very high prices just because they hold the patent, he says.
While HIV has the assured attention of policy makers, and the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) under the Indian health ministry works for the alleviation of AIDS, hepatitis C seems to have failed to receive attention.

Like Sharma, there are many patients who cannot afford the expensive medication for hepatitis C. Patients who either stop taking the medicine or miss a dose are required to restart the entire course of medication. With the number of patients with hepatitis on the rise, the government needs to intervene to ensure medical treatment for hepatitis is available to all.


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