Govt urged to replenish as Hepatitis C med stock in govt hospitals runs out

KUALA LUMPUR: The 2,000 treatments allocated for Hepatitis C patients at government hospitals for this year have been used up, and an NGO is urging the Government to replenish the stock.

Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group (MTAAG+) director Edward Low said the Health Ministry had made the medication available at 22 government hospitals nationwide but the 2,000 treatments had been used up as of Oct 1.

“We would like to urge the new Government to continue treatment for patients with Hepatitis C who have been on the waiting list for many years, he said in a statement on Tuesday.

Low said the government had to continue importing more medication in line with the goal of eliminating Hepatitis C by 2030, as set by WHO.

“Hepatitis C elimination will fail without the new Malaysian government’s commitment.

“We hope in the coming Budget 2019 announcement, the government will have allocation for a national Hepatitis C programme in public health care services,” he said.

From March, the Health Ministry had been bringing in the generic version of Sofosbuvir, which is the backbone combination treatment for Hepatitis C, after the previous government issued a compulsory licence to authorise a local import company to bring in the generic drug, making it affordable and accessible to Malaysians.

Direct acting antivirals, also known as DAAs, have little or no side effect compared to previous medication regime using Interferon.

In July last year, The Star carried a front-page story highlighting the plight of about 400,000 Malaysians who suffered from hepatitis C, with only a fraction of them being able to afford the medication which can cost up to RM300,000 for the full course of treatment.

Malaysia was not given special prices for the newer drugs by pharmaceutical companies because it was considered a middle-income country. Subsequently, the Cabinet gave approval to issue a government-use licence to enable the import of generic versions of the Hepatitis C drug Sofosbuvir, and it was made available in government hospitals in March.

Even if medicine is patented for 20 years, the government has the right to issue compulsory licensing under the rights, flexibilities and safeguards vested to World Trade Organisation members by the agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property.

The government-use licence only applies to drugs used in government health facilities.

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