People affected with Hepatitus C are dying because they can't afford treatment

The 9th International Conference on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) that took place on the 9th – 13th of August this year was interrupted by a small group of campaigners demanding access to drugs that treat HIV patients who also have been affected by Hepatitis C. The campaigners were from a broad coalition of Asia Pacific regional networks concerned with HIV/Aids and drug use. Seven Sisters, one of the main networks that participated brings together seven smaller networks that each provide a representative to form a committee that campaigns on behalf of drug users and people infected with HIV.

It is estimated that one-third of individuals with HIV also are infected with Hepatitis C and it has become an increasing cause of death amongst HIV sufferers. Drugs exist that have had success treating the virus however campaigners argue that the drugs are too expensive and people are dying because they cannot afford the medication, which can cost up to 1500 USD a month.

Protesters anger was aimed at the pharmaceutical giant Roche which they blame for keeping the prices high and they chanted “shame on you Roche, shame on you!”

Hepatitis C is an infection that affects the liver and can lead to liver fibrosis or cirrhosis, if sufferers do not receive treatment means that they will eventually need a liver transplant or die. Most individuals coinfected with HIV and Hepatitis are injecting drug users (IDU’s). However according to the WHO many countries still discriminate against injecting drug users and they are excluded from treatment.

Nanao Haobam a former IDU and now an HIV/AIDS activist in Bangkok who works with the Asia Pacific Network of People living with HIV (APN+) gave an insight to his own tragic personal situation "Almost every month my friends are dying and just in the last two months, five of them have lost their battle with Hepatitis C. Now, my doctor wants me to start on the treatment but it will cost me 1500 USD per month. Where do I get that money?"

The HIV treatment activist movement played a huge role in lowering the price of antiretroviral drugs by putting pressure on governments, bi-laterals and pharmaceutical giants. These efforts resulted in a dramatic fall in the cost of antiretroviral treatment to only a dollar a day. This is an inspirational example to the IDU community who want to reduce the price of these drugs in order to prevent people dying who otherwise could be saved.

Anne Bergenstrom from the UN Task Force on Harm Reduction in Asia Pacific has presented statistics on how IDU’s are being increasingly neglected by harm reduction policies and that they receive only two percent of the budget allocated to Aids policy in the region. Drug users in Asia and Pacific regions on average face greater discrimination than in Europe and would benefit from policies that allow drug users to obtain needed medications and treatments. Dean Lewis a member of the Asian Network for People who Use Drugs (ANPUD) told recent forum on Injecting Drug Users that "Such a policy is still unavailable in many Asian and Pacific countries."

Annie Maiden from the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) supported Mr. Lewis’s point stating that even in Australia the policies in place to protect the rights of drug users are not adequate. According to the WHO there are about 13 million estimated IDUs in the world out of which 43% of them belong to the Asia Pacific region. In some Asian countries 50-70% of HIV infections are due to injecting drug use.

An accomplishment would be the removal of the patent from the drug that treats Hepatitis C, known as Pegasys. This would allow low-cost generic versions on to the market allowing more infected individuals access to the drug.

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Shining a light on a hidden epidemic

 

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Seven Sisters

APN+