A team of hepatologists has been studying ways to eradicate hepatitis C within 10 or 15 years. Even though it is now possible to cure HCV-infected patients, the cost of treatment remains high. On Monday, the day before World Hepatitis Day, the CHAC patients association (Carrefour hépatites – aide et contact) stated that it was a question of politics. Hepatitis C affects 170 million people worldwide, including 70,000 Belgians. The virus kills 300 people every year in Belgium. Peter Stärkel from the Gastroenterology Department at Saint-Luc in Brussels explains that “Progress in the treatment of Hepatitis C has been unprecedented in the history of medicine”.
But paradoxically, while 20 years ago all patients were treated even though only 10% of them could hope to get better, nowadays only patients in an advanced stage of illness (fibrosis in an advanced stage or liver cirrhosis, i.e. stages F3 and F4) have access to reimbursed treatments.
If we want to eradicate HCV within 10 years, 7,000 patients will have to be treated yearly and screening will have to be stepped up. Moreover, starting 2016, all cases of early fibrosis (stage F2) must be treated, and from 2017 onwards, all patients suffering from HCV. If we postpone eradication to within 15 years instead of 10, the number of patients to treat yearly will drop to 4,300 and screening could be less systematic. F2-stage patients will still be treated as of 2016 but the treatment of all HCV sufferers would be postponed until 2020. Peter Stärkel says that this option is “easier to digest” for “political leaders”