It is estimated that some 230,000 people are already chronically infected with hepatitis C in Australia. At least 80 per cent of these infections are among people with a history of injecting drug use. The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) believes the decision by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) to not recommend an important new drug for the treatment of hepatitis C for Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) listing in Australia is both extremely disappointing and unacceptable.
While the PBAC recommended to add the drug simeprevir (Olysio) to the PBS for the treatment of people with genotype 1 hepatitis C – and important and welcome step forward – the decision not to recommend the new antiviral medication sofosbuvir (Sovaldi) is very bad news for people living with hepatitis C waiting for access to this new treatment option.
“Adding simeprevir to the existing treatment regime of ribavirin and pegylated interferon for people with genotype 1 hepatitis C will make the treatment easier to tolerate and therefore safer so its recommendation is definitely welcomed. The decision not to recommend the PBS listing of sofosbuvir however is a very short-sighted one that will have negative personal and social costs for individuals and the community and economic costs for the health system as a whole” stated Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer.
Australia currently has extremely low rates of hepatitis C treatment uptake. We cannot afford to do anything that creates further barriers to treatment. Indeed Australia has only recently signed off on new treatment targets for hepatitis C that will not be achieved without access to the new medications available and becoming available. One of the most significant drivers of low hepatitis C treatment rates are the widespread concerns about the length, complexity and side-effect profile of the currently available treatment regimes. The decision by PBAC in relation to sofosbuvir is concerning because it further delays access to an important new treatment medication, already available in many countries, that reduces treatment duration and increases treatment tolerability and efficacy.
“All people living with chronic hepatitis C infection deserve timely access to the best available standard of care at a price they can afford through a treatment system that is acceptable and accessible. These are principles that are already routinely applied in relation to many Australians living with other serious, chronic and/or potentially life threatening conditions. We cannot afford to create any further barriers to hepatitis C treatment – there are more than enough barriers already for those most affected by hepatitis C” stated Ms Madden.
The PBAC has cited “unacceptably high and likely under-estimated cost-effectiveness and budgetary impact on the PBS” as the reasons for not recommending the listing of sofosbuvir. AIVL recognises the enormous and growing budgetary pressures on the PBS – an issue of concern to all Australians. But available evidence shows that effectively treating hepatitis C and preventing HCV-related complications is likely to be a cost saving measure on a range of fronts including reducing the risk of people developing life threatening liver diseases including liver cancer, reducing the costs associated with treating HCV-related complications such as cirrhosis or the need for a liver transplant and reducing the many personal, social and economic implications of living with an untreated chronic health condition. Furthermore, in the longer term successfully treating hepatitis C will ultimately free up the health resources available to treat other diseases.
“We cannot wait for years for the new generation of breakthrough medications to be made available to us. Too many people are already infected, too few are accessing treatment and serious liver disease and deaths from hepatitis C are increasing dramatically in an upward trajectory. Australia is facing a crisis in relation to hepatitis C related liver disease. People need access to these new treatments now and AIVL calls upon the Australian Government and Gilead Sciences (the manufacturers of sofosbuvir) to take the necessary action to address what can only be described as a short-sighted and unacceptable outcome” concluded Ms Madden.
For more information contact: Annie Madden: (02) 62791600 or 0414628136