WASHINGTON, July 22 In response to today's New York Times article, "Hope against Hepatitis C," Andrew Muir, M.D., M.H.S., Director, Gastroenterology/Hepatology Research, Duke Clinical Research Institute and Steering Committee Member of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) released the following statement:
"Today's New York Times article details potential promising new drug therapies that could significantly improve the way we treat individuals infected with hepatitis C. Regrettably, the article suggests that expanded screening for hepatitis C may not be warranted. This approach is wrong and contrary to the direction in which we should and must move our health care system, particularly through improved access to care under health care reform. More than 5 million Americans are estimated to be infected with viral hepatitis B or C - and most are unaware they are infected as there are often few symptoms. Our health care system misses most infected individuals, who only learn that they have hepatitis C once they have progressed to liver cancer, cirrhosis, or liver failure. At that juncture, treatment options are limited and success rates are lower.
"Precisely because we do not know which individuals with hepatitis C will advance to these terrible diseases, it is critical that our public health infrastructure be modernized to achieve early detection of new infections and also to screen for individuals within specific risk groups, such as baby boomers and disproportionately affected populations. Once individuals are aware of their status, they will be empowered with this information, not only to make treatment choices, but also lifestyle choices to decrease their likelihood of disease progression and not to spread this infectious disease to others. In our current health care system, there are far too few options for diagnosis, care, and treatment. Unless or until the health care system provides access to all persons in need of hepatitis C treatment, it is important for the pharmaceutical industry to provide comprehensive compassionate care programs for those who are un/under insured.
"We can't prevent or treat what we don't know, which is why screening is critical. Access to screening would capture more infected individuals who can respond favorably to early intervention, reduce transmission, avoid needless medical expenses, and ultimately save thousands of lives annually."
NVHR is a coalition of more than 150 public, private, and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity, and mortality from chronic viral hepatitis that afflicts more than 5 million Americans. www.nvhr.org
SOURCE National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable