Stage set for access to Hepatitis C treatment


  • Nation
  • Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: Twenty months after sofosbuvir, the generic Hepatitis C drug was brought into Malaysia through compulsory licensing, only some 4,500 patients have been treated, says the Health Ministry.

It admitted that this initial stage of setting the stage for screening and treatment had been saddled with many challenges.

But a lot of the issues have been resolved and the number of patients to be screened and treated are expected to increase exponentially next year.

The process of getting laboratory support, coordinating with hospitals for patients to be treated and procurement that did not meet specifications were among the challenges they had faced, said the ministry’s National Head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan.

“We have rectified the problems and we expect the number of patients screened and treated will increase markedly next year, ” he said in a dialogue between civil society organisations and the ministry in a multi-stakeholder forum on Hepatitis C here recently.

Besides the logistics issues, Dr Muhammad Radzi said that at the initial stage, there were fewer patients treated because many of them had liver cirrhosis and were treated in hospitals, which required more of the allocated medication.

But with the efforts to decentralise Hepatitis C screening and treatment this year, more were expected to be diagnosed and treated next year, he added.

“We will have screening and treatment in selected health clinics in every state beginning next year.”

Dr Muhammad Radzi said that with the decentralisation, the ministry would also provide clinics with rapid test kits for better access to screening. The rapid test is to test for Hepatitis C antibodies.

If tested positive, the patient would need another test to confirm if treatment is needed.

In total, he said the ministry and the Foundation for Innovative New Diagnostics (FIND), funded by Unitaid, had screened more than 50,000 high-risk people this year.

FIND, in collaboration with the ministry, had tested out and introduced the Hepatitis C rapid diagnostic test in one health clinic in December last year and in 25 health clinics starting March.

The programme had screened 15,148 patients and 2,031 patients were tested positive for Hepatitis C while 11,523 patients were screened during the ministry’s World Hepatitis Day one-week campaign in July and 220 patients were tested positive, said FIND HCV country project manager Sem Xiao Hui.

For the other cases (of the 50,000) while the rapid test was being studied, health clinics had taken blood samples and sent them to the hospitals or public health laboratories for testing.

In 2017, Universiti Malaya consultant hepatologist Prof Dr Rosmawati Mohamed said that more than 500,000 Malaysians aged between 15 and 60 were estimated to be infected with Hepatitis C, but 74% or 386,000 had active or persistent infection which required treatment.

In July 2017, The Star carried a front page story highlighting the plight of Malaysians who suffered from Hepatitis C as only a fraction could afford the medication that can cost up to RM300,000 for the full course of treatment.

Subsequently, the Cabinet gave approval to issue a government-use licence to enable the import of generic versions of the Hepatitis C drug sofosbuvir.

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