Hope for Hepatitis C patients

KUALA LUMPUR: Two months after Malaysia received world recognition for taking steps to provide affordable medicine for Hepatitis C sufferers, it is learnt that 18 state hospitals are ready to roll out the treatment, with up to 400,000 patients likely to benefit.

This access to the affordable medicine comes after the Government issued a compulsory licence (CL) to import or produce the generic versions of sofosbuvir one of the drug combinations used for Hepatitis C treatment.

The combination of sofosbuvir and daclatasvir is now available in all government state hospitals.

It used to cost RM300,000 for a full course treatment. With the Government initiative, it now costs around RM1,000.

It was reported in January that the country received the Leadership Award in Intellectual Property and Access to Medicines for being the first to do so.

A source from the company appointed to import sofosbuvir through CL, Pharmaniaga Marketing Sdn Bhd, said the generic version of the drug was delivered to the Health Ministry last week while daclatasvir had been sent earlier.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) South-East Asia regional office head Jean-Michel Piedagnel said Malaysia was leading the world in Hepatitis C treatment access.

DNDi is an international non-profit drug research and development organisation.

“We need more of such leadership to tackle the disease,” said Piedagnel.

The contagious liver disease results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus and spreads through contact with the blood of an infected person.

Hepatitis C patient Shahrull Azuar Ahmad (pic), 48, a father of four, said he was grateful to the Government for providing affordable access to Hepatitis C treatment.

Shahrull, a former drug user, said he started using intravenously when he was 18, but stopped in 2000.

In 1995, he was found to have a Hepatitis C infection. At the time, his liver was still all right and he did not need any treatment.

But after more than 20 years, he said his liver has suffered some damage.

Shahrull said he had been going for a regular check-up since 2003 and was waiting for treatment but, like many other Hepatitis C patients, did not pursue treatment with the older drug interferon because of severe side effects such as fever, depression and fatigue.

After hearing about the new drug combination, which has fewer side effects and a high cure rate, he said he was keen to seek treatment but could not afford it.

“I have been waiting for these new drugs.

“Many Hepatitis C patients have hoped the Government would provide the treatment,” said Shahrull, who is also the chairman of Pahang-based Karisma, an NGO dealing with drug problems and HIV/AIDS, which he set up with his wife Norazatul Shima Nordin, 44, two years ago.