Press statement November 2017:
Sick Danes have to wait for treatment:
Denmark has no treatment plan for fighting hepatitis C.
Denmark has the opportunity to eliminate the contagious liver disease hepatitis C. But right now, thousands of patients are waiting to get sick enough for Denmark to administer the treatment. Last year WHO launched a goal that 90% of all hepatitis c infected should be identified and 80% cured by 2030. Denmark agreed to this goal but hasn’t made any plan of action. It frustrates both doctors and patient organisations.
The Danish Health Authority estimates that 17.000 Danes are carrying the contagious liver disease hepatitis C right now, which can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. A treatment that can cure patients exists. But it isn’t until the patients’ livers start to degrade to a certain level that the patients receive treatment.
Right now, only about 500 patients each year are treated in Denmark. The other thousands of patients have to live with a disease in their bodies, year after year, that isn’t prioritised by the health care system until people get ill enough.
It’s a strange situation to be in as a doctor. Having to sit across from a sick patient and defend that he or she isn’t allowed to be cured of their disease, even when a treatment actually exists, says Henrik Krarup, consultant and ph.d at Aalborg University and who daily sees hepatitis C patients. He has yearly check-ups with the patients whose livers haven’t yet been damaged enough to allow them treatment.
People have reduced life quality and are worried
Currently around 500 patients yearly are treated for contagious liver cirrhosis – a treatment that takes three months and leaves the patients completely cured. The rest of the patients have to wait until they’re declared sick enough – greatly frustrating most of the patients. The symptoms vary. Some are marked physically and aren’t able to work. Others feel no physical symptoms for many years, but have psychological hardships, Henrik Krarup explains, since they’re deeply worried about infecting those closest to them.
– It’s perplexing how we have patients who aren’t receiving treatment for a chronic disease, when it’s entirely treatable. It’s reduces their quality of life a lot. You also need to remember, that many of them are ordinary citizens who were infected many years prior. It’s necessary for politicians to step in and do something actively, considering that we as a country have signed WHO’s initiative. We need to make a plan of action, says Henrik Krarup.
Plan of action for substance abusers.
The Danish Liver Association, which look after hepatitis C patient’s interests, are also surprised that politicians haven’t sketched out a plan of action yet.
– There are two types of patients, substance abusers and patients without substance abuse. If we are going to eradicate this disease and live up to WHO’s plan, we have to get started treating the patients who already have the diagnosis. It also requires us to establish a national plan, for how to uncover the actual number of undiagnosed substance abusers, says Lone McColaugh, who is the chairperson for the Danish Liver Association.
According to the Danish Health authorities, only around half of the 17.000 hepatitis C cases are known. The rest haven’t yet been diagnosed. This is because most of these cases are substance abusers who don’t go to see a doctor. They are however also at the highest risk of exposure to infection, because they use needles and syringes.
– Lone McColaugh explains that it’s imperative that an effort is made in this area, if we want to eliminate the disease. We have to find a way to screen those who do drugs this way, so they can receive treatment and stop infecting each other.
The medicine costs the same as diabetes medicine
Previously the political focus has been on the price of the treatment – and that has been one of the reasons why only 500 people have been treated per year.
But the price of treatment has decreased from approximately 550.000 kr. in 2014 to less than 212.000 kr. for an average treatment in 2017.
If you compare that to a well-treated diabetic, the Danish Health Authorities estimate that this treatment costs the approximately 80.000 kr. per year to treat and care for. That means, it costs society more to treat diabetes for three years, than it costs to cure a chronic disease like hepatitis, which can cause liver cancer and cirrhosis of the liver as well as losing part of the workforce.
– To me it’s still bizarre that there isn’t a plan of action that allows the treatment of all hepatitis C patients. You don’t tell diabetes patients that they need to have a higher blood sugar count or have to change the colour of their eyes to get treatment, says Henrik Krarup.
– Henrik Krarup, consultant at Aalborg University, molecular diagnostics and clinical diagnostics, email@example.com, 97 66 56 30
– Lone McColaugh, Chairperson of the Danish Liver Association, firstname.lastname@example.org , 21 26 82 50
For cases, contact:
Thilde Danielsen, pr-advisor, email@example.com , 25 57 21 89