Hopes for Kiwi access to Hep C treatments


Australia has announced $1 billion investment in ground-breaking treatments to wipe out hepatitis C, and health groups here are hoping they'll get the same access to medicines.

Hepatitis C is an infectious blood-borne virus that can lead to liver failure or liver cancer, affecting one in 100 Kiwis.

Treatment involves up to a year of weekly injections with debilitating side effects. But now, Australians will have access to four new breakthrough medicines.

The new wonder pills cure more than 90 percent of cases in just a few months. It's costing Australia $1 billion and health groups here want them funded too.

"I think there's a real opportunity for New Zealand to look at what's happening in Australia and for Pharmac to explore possibilities of a similar funding arrangement," says Kelly Barclay of Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand.

But for the cure to work here, detection would also need to be improved.

In New Zealand, around 50,000 people have chronic hepatitis C, but only 40 percent are aware they have it. In Australia, it's 85 percent.

"Our priority at the moment needs to be finding more people who are living with hepatitis C but don't know they've got it," says Ms Barclay.

Pharmac says it's actively assessing three different treatments. However, with more hepatitis C medicines close to registration – meaning increased competition – they may wait for the prices to come down before they're funded for Kiwis.

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