Hep C patient left in the lurch

KUALA LUMPUR: A patient who is on Hepatitis C treatment has to stop his treatment after the allocated 2,000 treatments for this year ran out.

The self-employed patient, who wanted to be known as Zack, 38, said the hospital he went to had run out of stock of the medicine and his treatment will resume once stock is available.

“I hope the government will bring in the stock quickly because, not only I, but many of my friends, are waiting to be treated,” he said in a telephone interview.

Zack, who lives in Sungai Petani, Kedah, said he has liver scarring and started the treatment in July and had only completed 12 weeks of treatment.

“The doctor told me last month that he wanted me to be on the medication for up to six months. I was told to wait for the stock, then only continue with treatment,” said Zack, who was treated with a combination of the generic version of Sofosbuvir and Daclatasvir.

The former drug user said four of his friends had died of Hepatitis C, two in April and June.

“I am concerned because one of my friends looked well and then suddenly fell sick and died. Just before he died, his stomach was bloated,” he said.

Positive Malaysian Treatment Access and Advocacy Group (MTAAG+) director Edward Low said the Health Ministry has made the medication available at 22 government hospitals nationwide but the 2,000 treatments allocated for this year have finished as at Oct 1.

“We 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 has to continue importing more medication in line with achieving the goal to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030 as set by WHO.

“Elimination of Hepatitis C will fail without the new 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 (CL) to authorise a local import company to bring in the drug, making it affordable and accessible to Malaysians.

This direct-acting antivirals has little or no side effects compared with previous medication.

In July last year, The Star carried a front page report about 400,000 Malaysians with Hepatitis C who could barely afford the full course of treatment that could cost up to RM300,000.

Malaysia was not given special prices for the newer drugs by the pharmaceutical company because it is considered a middle-income country.

The Cabinet then gave approval to issue a government-use licence to enable the import of generic versions of Sofosbuvir drug even though it is still patented, as provided for under the rights, flexibilities and safeguards vested to World Trade Organisation members through the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property agreement.

Another patient identified as Camelia, 41, said he had been waiting for 18 years for Hepatitis C treatment and hoped the government could replenish and bring in more medicine because 2,000 treatments are not enough to treat about 400,000 patients.

“Although my liver shows no scarring yet, the longer the wait, the higher the risk of scarring. That’s my concern,” said the finance manager, adding that it will cost more and will take longer to treat once that happens.

The doctor wanted to start him on treatment on Oct 1 but the medicine had run out of stock, he said.

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