Lessons from the world’s response to HIV/AIDS can help save lives today in the battle against hepatitis C, Partners In Health co-founder Dr. Paul Farmer writes this week in a Washington Post op-ed.
Hepatitis C is a chronic infection that causes liver failure in many of the approximately 170 million people who suffer from it. But a new treatment will make it curable in most cases.
What would stop this lifesaving treatment from reaching the people who need it? The prohibitive cost, the same obstacle that kept antiretroviral therapy (ART) from saving the lives of poor people with HIV in the mid-1990s.
To bridge the gap, Partners In Health began treating Haitian patients dying of AIDS with ART in 1999. The success of this project, called the HIV Equity Initiative, equipped HIV activists with the evidence they needed to advocate for greater access to the drugs and lower prices. (Read more about the HIV Equity Initiative).
The new treatment for hepatitis C is priced between $80,000 and $90,000 per 12-week course. In the op-ed, Farmer says we are at a critical juncture in the fight against hepatitis C. We can effect “precipitous drops” in the price of these drugs for poor patients, just as activists did for HIV, or allow this infectious disease to continue to grow among people who cannot afford treatment.
“As infectious pathogens such as HIV and hepatitis remind us, our hopes are tied together more closely than we might imagine,” Farmer writes.