28 July 2011 marks first official World Hepatitis Day. The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to hepatitis C (HCV) as a “viral time bomb” due to the remarkable toll in worldwide infections and the extent of time it takes for HCV to become symptomatic. Globally, between 130-170 million people are chronically infected with HCV and there are approximately 10 million people living with HCV in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA).
Unlike hepatitis A and B, a vaccine for HCV does not exist. As a result, every year 3-4 million people are infected with the virus (WHO, 2011). However, there is a cure for HCV. Yet, access to HCV treatment for lower middle-income countries, such as most countries in EECA, is severely limited by high drug prices. HCV antivirals are extremely costly for governments let alone the individuals in EECA where the average household monthly wages and salaries per capita range from US $277 in Ukraine to US $564 in Kazakhstan. Globally, inaccessibility to HCV treatment has contributed to liver cirrhosis among 50% of people living with the disease and liver cancer among 5% of those living with the disease. Furthermore, 350,000 people per year needlessly die from these and more HCV-related diseases (WHO, 2011).
On World Hepatitis Day, the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) calls for civil society to demand HCV treatment price reduction in Eastern Europe and Central Asia in order for the millions of people living with HCV to gain access to life saving drugs.
Call for Action
Mobilize civil society to demand affordable and accessible HCV treatment
Begin a HCV treatment price reduction dialogue by becoming more self-informed and educating the harm reduction community on the high prices of HCV treatment. Document facts of denial of HCV testing and treatment. Frame access to HCV treatment as a human right. Network and build alliances with HCV treatment price reduction advocates including human rights and harm reduction organizations and activists, and people living with HIV and/or HCV; and those impacted by drugs.
Advocate for national HCV programs
Put pressure on governments to develop and implement a national HCV program. Make sure that adequate funding is allocated for treatment of injecting drug users. Accumulate international expertise for HCV national protocol development.
Advocate for WHO leadership in improving access to HCV treatment
Put pressure on WHO to ensure it takes the lead in making HCV treatment universally available. Demand technical support from WHO in developing national HCV programs and treatment protocols. Demand inclusion of HCV drugs in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines.
Study intellectual property regulations and prepare to negotiate HCV treatment prices when generics become available
Study intellectual property legislation and strategize country-specific actions to make sure generic HCV drugs are registered for when they become available.
Follow EHRN’s HCV Treatment Advocacy Efforts by visiting the EHRN website.