Eliminating hepatitis C requires us to enact innovative and creative solutions.
The consequences of the hepatitis C virus can be devastating if people are unable to access treatment. Left untreated, they can experience irreversible liver damage, cirrhosis, liver cancer and even death. Thankfully, investments in pharmaceutical research have led to new oral medications that allows individuals to be cured in as little as eight weeks, with few to no side effects. These medications have become more affordable as the price continues to drop due to competition.
Here in Washington, we know all too well the impact of hepatitis C. From 2010 to 2016, the number of reports of new infections (acute cases) rose by more than 280% statewide, with most occurring among young persons who inject drugs. Nationwide, cases of hepatitis rose by 350% during that same time period. These are upsetting statistics, but we know how to change this trend.
The World Health Organization and the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine have released reports showing that eliminating viral hepatitis as a public-health threat is possible both globally and nationally, and not only saves lives, but also saves money in the long run. However, elimination requires concerted efforts by states and communities, and an investment in resources. The U.S. has recently demonstrated this with the federal effort of “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,” which hopes to reduce new HIV infections by 90% in 10 years. We need a similar initiative to eliminate hepatitis C.
In some state Medicaid programs, access to the medications that cure hepatitis C has been restricted to only those individuals who have progressed to more advanced liver disease. Not only is this against Medicaid policy, it causes undue harm. Treatment restrictions are a significant barrier to eliminating the virus nationally.
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