10 million Pakistanis affected by hepatitis C

* Untreated hepatitis C poses risk of liver cancer: experts

ISLAMABAD: Like in every other part of the world, the Pakistanis would be observing the “World Hepatitis Day” today (Monday) to promote awareness among the people about hepatitis C, its spread, prevention, and treatment.Maroof International Hospital’s Medicine and Gastroenterology professor Muzzaffar Lateef Gill, in an interview, highlighted the need to make the people know more about the causes, preventive measures, and timely treatment of the disease. The message on this day is “know it and confront it”. He said that five hundred million people in the world population are exposed to hepatitis, killing 1.5 million people each year. Majority of these deaths are because of hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatitis C, so far has affect over 10 million Pakistanis. The majority of untreated and relapse cases are at risk for progressing to liver cancer. As a result, liver cancer is now the fastest-growing cancer in Pakistan.There is an important breakthrough in hepatitis C treatment. Sovaldi is a new kind of oral antiviral treatment for hepatitis C. Based on its safety and efficacy data, Sovaldi was approved by the FDA as a breakthrough treatment in December 2013, and was given an accelerated approval by the EU authorities, a month later in January 2014. Sovaldi is being made available in Pakistan through the special efforts of Gilead at only 2% of its international price, and gives us a real chance to tackle the menace of this disease in Pakistan. The government could give no better gift to the patients of this disease in Pakistan on the occasion of Eid and the World Hepatitis Day than to register this FDA approved drug and make it available to the suffering population.It is a matter of great concern to find through the press that while the FDA has approved the medicine, the treatment is still pending registration, as 30-40 local companies are applying undue pressure on the DRA to register untested, unverified copies of the drug, without any stability studies or human safety and efficacy data. This is causing danger for the health of the public, and could ultimately lead to creating resistance to a drug which otherwise offers us a real chance towards eliminating HCV. Gill said, “It is very unfortunate that we did not understand the dynamics of hepatitis C’s treatment appropriately. For the last ten years, we have been treating hepatitis C patients with substandard interferon, and as a result, we have to deal with poor outcomes.”He said, “My biggest concern is making the same mistake again by allowing substandard oral medication for hepatitis C in our country.” “The message on the ‘World Hepatitis Day’ from our country standpoint is ‘know about it and confront it’. Unfortunately, we are not giving quality treatment to the patients of hepatitis in the government hospitals. We have made two standards of treatment, one is for the poor, which is not a quality treatment, and the other one is for the wealthy people, which is very effective. I very strongly urge the Health Ministry to expedite the registration, and the availability of Sovaldi in the country,” he urged.

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