Better access to new Hep C treatment

PETALING JAYA: The Health Ministry wants to make the treatment of Hepatitis C (HCV) available around the country, including at clinics and primary care facilities, as part of a move to decentralise its treatment from tertiary care.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said this meant that a family physician could diagnose and prescribe medicine for the disease.

“We have more than 3,000 clinics all over Malaysia from Perlis to Tawau. This is an important integrated strategy to make available treatment and diagnostics in the community using public health measures.

“In the long term, there will be cost-saving for us to prevent liver cancer and liver failure,” he said in a press conference on the cooperation that resulted in the development of the drug Ravidasvir yesterday.

The Drug Control Authority (DCA) Malaysia had on June 4 granted a conditional registration for the drug, with Malaysia being the first country in the world to approve its use.

The drug was developed via a public-private partnership bringing together the ministry, the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi), Egyptian pharmaceutical company Pharco, Pharmaniaga and Doctors Without Borders.

In results published in The Lancet in April, the combination of the ravidasvir and sofosbuvir drugs showed cure rates of 97% and was well tolerated in a diverse adult population with chronic HCV infection.

Dr Noor Hisham said the drug was expected to be made available by the end of this year with the entire course of treatment costing about RM420.

There are an estimated 400,000 people living with HCV in Malaysia although the majority are unaware that they are infected due to the lack of symptoms until complications set in.

National Head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Datuk Dr Radzi Abu Hassan said with the new drug, there would be increased accessibility to HCV treatment.

“Liver failure is a very serious complication. Most of the patients will succumb to the illness.

“In the case of kidney failure, you still have an option to replace the functions of the kidney.

“In the case of liver failure, you have no option. There is no replacement therapy or a machine to replace its functions,” he said.

DNDi executive director Dr Bernard Pécoul said the development of the new drug was the result of a partnership between public and private actors sharing the same public health objective from the very start, which was the development of affordable medicine.

“It is a concrete example of how research and development can deliver innovation driven by public health needs, rather than market imperatives,” he said.

Hepatitis C is a type of liver inflammation disease that is caused by the Hepatitis C virus and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

It is transmitted mainly through blood, with nearly 60% of cases in Malaysia related to previous drug use through shared needles.

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