Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Australia-Hep C treatment breakthrough


HEALTH workers are calling for two new hepatitis C treatments to be added the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as infection rates in the western suburbs increase.

Staff from Hepatitis Victoria, St Vincents Hospital's Werribee hepatitis clinic, Footscray-based primary care service Healthworks and the Sexual Health, HIV and Hepatitis Education Program used a roundtable discussion in Werribee last week to urge the federal government to make telaprevir and boceprevir available on the PBS.

Latest data from Hepatitis Victoria reveals that Maribyrnong has the third-highest rate of hepatitis C infections in metropolitan Melbourne, with 68.6 positive tests per 100,000 people in the 12 months to August 2012.

Brimbank recorded the fourth-highest infection rate, returning 65.5 positive tests per 100,000 people. Wyndham, Hume and Melton also had large populations of at-risks groups.

Dr Alex Thompson, head of hepatology research at St Vincents Hospital, said it had been running a hepatitis clinic at Werribee Mercy Hospital for the past eight months and had noticed an increase in patients asking about telaprevir and boceprevir.

He said hepatitis infections could cause liver failure and liver cancer and were the most common cause of transplants in Australia.

"The treatment we have at the moment is OK with a 40-50 per cent cure rate. The new treatments are doubling [cure] rates," Dr Thompson said. "Australia has fallen behind more than 25 other countries around the world that have already chosen to subsidise these vital new drugs."

Rose Coulter, who lived with hepatitis C for more than 40 years, said she was disappointed the new drugs were not available in Australia. Ms Coulter underwent treatment four years ago and is now free of the virus. She describes her six months of treatment with interferon as a difficult time in her life, after experiencing pyschological side effects.

"By week 12 I was homicidal and suicidal. I can understand why people don't complete treatment. I thought the treatment was worse than the disease."
She said making the new treatments available on the PBS would mean less people would have to experience what she went through.

"I would like see interferon phased out and the early introduction of the new therapies which have less side effects. I feel very strongly that we need to have access to new virals."

Prime Minister and Lalor MP Julia Gillard said the drugs had been approved by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and the government was negotiating a price for the treatments, finalising the conditions for their listing on the PBS and conducting quality and availability checks.

"The government is working hard to ensure all details are properly worked through and an announcement is expected in the coming months," she said.


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