Study shows that despite drugs approved a decade ago being capable of curing hepatitis C

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According to a recent study, highly effective medications for hepatitis C infections have been available worldwide for a decade. However, in the United States, these medications have largely remained unused.

Direct-acting antivirals, known for their ability to inhibit the proteins essential for viral replication, have been celebrated as a remarkable advancement in modern medicine.

Sold in pill form, these drugs offer convenient administration with minimal side effects and an astounding 95% cure rate among patients who utilize them.

The remarkable effectiveness of these therapies was such that upon the approval of the first treatment in 2013, medical professionals anticipated the possibility of hepatitis C, previously a primary cause of liver transplants in the US, becoming a thing of the past.

In fact, Egypt, a nation with a high prevalence of hepatitis C, has already achieved eradication of the disease, which is also associated with liver cancer, liver failure, and fatality.

Instead of achieving widespread accessibility, these therapies, initially priced at approximately $90,000 per treatment course and previously ranking among the most costly drugs in the country, have underscored a glaring inequity within the U.S. healthcare system.

Despite the United States being at the forefront of pharmaceutical innovation, American patients, who pay over twice as much for prescription drugs compared to patients in 32 other affluent nations, frequently find themselves unable to afford these treatments.

According to Dr. Jonathan Mermin, the director of the National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the current data reveals that nearly 15,000 Americans lose their lives to hepatitis C annually.

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During a news briefing, Dr. Jonathan Mermin expressed that these fatalities could have been avoided, emphasizing the concerning reality that thousands of individuals continue to die annually in the United States from an infection that has been curable for over a decade.

The study published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report brings attention to the notable disparities in access to hepatitis C therapies.

By analyzing testing data provided by Quest Diagnostics, a prominent commercial laboratory, researchers were able to monitor the outcomes of one million Americans diagnosed with hepatitis C infections over the past decade since the introduction of the most efficacious drugs.

Across the examined time frame, only one-third of individuals were cured of hepatitis C.

Cure rates were found to vary based on factors such as age and insurance coverage. Younger patients and those with limited or no insurance were less likely to achieve a cure compared to older patients and individuals with more comprehensive insurance benefits.

In the study, it was found that only 25% of individuals under the age of 40 achieved a cure, while 42% of adults aged 60 and above were classified as cured.

Regarding insurance coverage, less than 1 in 4 (23%) of those without insurance were considered cured, in contrast to approximately 2 in 5 (40%) of individuals with commercial insurance and nearly half (45%) of those covered by Medicare.

The study revealed that patients who were younger and uninsured had the lowest likelihood of achieving a cure. Only 1 in 6 individuals under the age of 40 without insurance were able to attain the desired outcome.

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Dr. Frances Collins, a special adviser to President Biden and former director of the National Institutes of Health, expressed deep disappointment with the newly released statistics. Despite the availability of a cure for hepatitis C over the years, Dr. Collins characterized the numbers as “truly discouraging.”

He emphasized that a technologically advanced nation should not accept such outcomes, stating unequivocally, “It’s not fine.”

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