Restrictions on treatment reimbursement prevent Europeans from accessing life-saving hepatitis C treatment

Amsterdam, The Netherlands – 20 April 2017: Many European countries are restricting access to life-saving hepatitis C treatment, according to data from the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney presented today at The International Liver Congress™ 2017 in Amsterdam.
Between 80 and 130 million people worldwide are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV can cause chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer. New, direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatments for HCV can cure the virus with minimal side effects in more than 95 per cent of people. However in most countries there are restrictions placed on accessing DAA therapy due to the high cost of the treatments. 
PhD candidate Ms Alison Marshall’s research explored patient reimbursement for DAA hepatitis C treatment in Europe. “While all European countries included in our study reimbursed some form of DAA treatment, there was restricted access based on fibrosis stage, substance use, and the type of prescriber, meaning that some patients are encountering considerable barriers to the life-saving treatment they need,” said Ms Marshall from the Kirby Institute. “In particular, restricting DAA prescribing to specialists is a major impediment to ensuring broad access to HCV therapy. 32 of the 34 European countries in the study required specialists to prescribe DAA therapy.” 
The results of the study show that many European countries are not following the most recent European HCV treatment guidelines published by the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) in 2016, and are preventing people from accessing treatment. “These findings have important implications for health policy and the delivery of health services across Europe,” said Ms Marshall. 
In Australia, hepatitis C treatments are available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), meaning they are offered free of cost and without restriction to anyone who needs to access them. They can be prescribed by general practitioners and dispensed in community pharmacies.
Professor Gregory Dore is head of the Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program at the Kirby Institute, and said that in the first year that the treatments were made available on the PBS, more Australians were treated for their hepatitis C infections than in the previous ten years combined.
“In Australia we have a realistic opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C within a decade, thanks to a strong commitment by government, industry and research sectors to making treatment widely accessible. I’m hopeful that the evidence emerging from Australia will encourage European countries to remove restrictions to accessing treatment – paving the way for global elimination of hepatitis C,” said Professor Dore. 
The data from this study were presented on Thursday 20 April at The International Liver Congress in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Date published: 
Thursday, 20 April 2017