WHO launches first-ever global report on access to hepatitis C treatment

27 Oct 2016 Tara Farrell

New report from the World Health Organization (WHO) released today shows how political will, civil society advocacy and pricing negotiations are helping to address the global burden of hepatitis C.

Currently less than 1% of people living with viral hepatitis have access to treatment but the report shows that advancements are being made with over one million people in low- and middle-income countries been treated since the introduction of a revolutionary new cure for hepatitis C two years ago.

In total, the hepatitis viruses are the seventh leading cause of mortality, responsible for 1.4 million deaths each year – more than AIDs, TB or malaria. Hepatitis C is responsible for half of this huge number, killing more than 700,000 people every year, mostly as a result of liver disease, cirrhosis or liver cancer,

Access is often cited as one of the main obstacles for the elimination of viral hepatitis, which is hot topic for the hepatitis community following the recently adopted WHO Global Health Sector Strategy (GHSS) which includes a goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

As such, improving access to new hepatitis C medicines has never been more important. In response to this, WHO held a press conference on 27 October to launch their new report ‘Overcoming Barriers to Access to Direct Antivirals Medicines: Global Update on Access to Hepatitis C Treatment 2016’. The report illustrates experiences from 13 pioneering countries and shows that sound policy guidelines, combined with political will and smart strategies to reduce prices can enable hepatitis C treatment scale up. 

Speaking at press conference, Raquel Peck, CEO of the World Hepatitis Alliance said “Right now 700,000 people are dying each year of a curable disease. This is not acceptable. We need to ensure that we fight those barriers and expand access to treatment, looking at it as key component of a comprehensive response to viral hepatitis – otherwise we will not eliminate this cancer-causing disease by 2030” 

The report outlines a variety of different approaches to increase access, including generic production, scale-up in diagnosis and screening and different licensing agreements. They surveyed 13 countries with different backgrounds to understand how they are increasing access to hepatitis C treatment despite various barriers, and to illustrate how using unique and innovative approaches, global treatment scale up is achievable, and may already be happening at an incredible pace.

The report also demonstrates the role that civil society can play in increasing access. Examples from Thailand and Brazil illustrate how civil society pressed their governments to move beyond using cost as an excuse not to treat and to develop bespoke strategies to increase access.

The report is only a starting point but it can be used by civil society and other stakeholders to increase their knowledge of the rapidly changing environment.

If you are interested in learning more about the access issue, in particular accessing generic hepatitis C medicine, the World Hepatitis Alliance is holding a webinar on 1 November as part of their Knowledge for Change series. The webinar, entitled; ‘An Introduction to Accessing Generic Hepatitis C Medicines’ will feature experts; Raquel Peck, CEO of World Hepatitis Alliance, Erika Duenas, Advocacy Officer, Medicines Patent Pool; Andrew Hill, Senior Visiting Research Fellow, Department of Pharmacology, University of Liverpool; and Giten Khwairakpam, Project Manager for Community and Policy, TREAT Asia.

The webinar will explore the generics landscape for hepatitis C with discussions on legalities, quality and performance of generics medicines as well as providing examples of how people across the globe are accessing them. Register here.

[ii] Stanaway et al, The global burden of viral hepatitis from 1990 to 2013: findings from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, Lancet, July 2016