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Update from New Zealand’s Battle with Hepatitis C Virus
New funding offers hepatitis C patients chance for
04 February 2004
Some New Zealand hepatitis C sufferers living with "a time bomb in
their livers" now have a better chance of being cured with the
Government's agreement to a more effective treatment.
From March 1, pegylated interferon in combination with ribavirin will
be available fully funded for sufferers of the most virulent form of
the disease, type 1.
The combination therapy has a permanent cure rate of 50 per cent for
people with type 1 hepatitis C - a considerable improvement on the
previous cure rate of 36 per cent with standard interferon
Government drug-buying agency, Pharmac, estimates about 250 people
will be able to access the treatment every year, at a cost of up to
About half of the estimated 30,000 New Zealanders infected with
hepatitis C are genotype 1, but the majority are unaware they have
the disease, which can take years to produce symptoms.
Pharmac chief executive Wayne McNee said the deal with the
pharmaceutical company Roche Products was "a step forward" for
sufferers of hepatitis C.
"We will be targeting the treatment to the largest identifiable
group, which is also the hardest group to treat using the standard
therapy," he said in a statement.
"We also expect that improving treatment will have downstream
benefits in other areas of the health sector, such as reducing the
demand for liver transplants as a result of hepatitis C infection."
Pharmac was also looking at ways of making the new treatment even
more widely available, he said.
Hepatitis Foundation chief executive John Hornell, a long-time
campaigner for the treatment, said hepatitis infections had
reached "epidemic proportions" in New Zealand and yesterday's
announcement was "great news".
"Having the most effective therapy available means a cure has become
a realistic goal for more people," he said.
"Living with hepatitis C can be like having a time-bomb in your
Common symptoms included fatigue, feeling unwell and alcohol
Chronic infection can lead to advanced liver disease (cirrhosis),
liver failure and liver cancer.
Mr Hornell said he hoped that the treatment would be rolled out over
time to other hepatitis sufferers.
Such a move would save the health system millions down the track, he
"We used to be streets ahead of Australia when it came to hepatitis C
control but Australia has funded this drug since November last year."
The treatment had serious side-effects and patients and their
families and their primary health givers would need on-going support,