Opinion | Hepatitis C Kills 15,000 Americans a Year. That Number Should Be Zero.

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A few decades ago, I watched my brother-in-law, Rick Botteroff, die of complications from the hepatitis C virus, which took his health, his energy, and ultimately his life.

A husband, father and practical joker, Rick designs and builds complex yacht interiors in Florida. But he was on the liver transplant list for five years with symptoms of delayed liver failure. During the transplant surgery, he was diagnosed with an unknown liver cancer. In the end, Rick died in his sleep, a tragic end for a good man who suffered so badly from this devastating virus.

Medical Science was two years later, in October 2014. He offered a cure For hepatitis C infection. Based on the most important research, which was later recognized by the Nobel Prize, the treatment is simple – one pill a day for eight to 12 weeks, with basically no side effects and a 95 percent cure rate.

I was serving as director of the National Institutes of Health when the cure was discovered. I was thrilled that the drug was approved, but the news was bittersweet. What gives me hope is thinking of the many other individuals and their families who will survive the ordeal that Rick and our family went through. And to a large extent that hope was justified: These drugs have cured nearly a million people in the United States.

But nearly a decade later, at least 2.4 million Americans are infected with hepatitis C. Many of those who do will never find the cure. Congress has an opportunity to turn this ongoing human tragedy into public health progress by providing support for a five-year project to eliminate hepatitis C in the United States. But the time for approval is growing short.

Hepatitis C develops slowly. Years later, the virus causes liver fibrosis, which leads to cirrhosis, esophageal bleeding, and liver failure that requires liver transplantation. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver cancer, accounting for half of the 40,000 annual cases of liver cancer in the United States. About 15,000 Americans die of hepatitis C each year, many in their 40s and 50s. Given the availability of safe and effective medicine for the past nine years, the actual number of deaths by 2023 should be zero.

Simply put, we are wasting one of the most important medical advances of the 21st century. Now is the time to end this threat to the health of Americans.

It’s not a secret. What happened?. The cost of prescription drugs is so high that many insurance companies and Medicaid programs have created barriers to coverage, such as requiring people to abstain from drugs and alcohol before receiving treatment, to be referred to a specialist, or to have the patient already diagnosed with liver disease. A scar. Relatively few doctors offer treatment, and many sites where at-risk people come for care don’t even offer diagnosis, let alone treatment. The result is that fewer than one in three people with an active infection receive timely treatment.

In the year After I was named NIH director in 2021, I was asked to serve as acting science advisor to President Biden. I learned that there are many other countries – including united kingdom And Australia – Great strides have been made to eliminate hepatitis C. Egypt basically over there. Will the United States be last? That cannot be a correct answer. So in March, I was delighted when President Biden endorsed a five-year program to end hepatitis C in the United States.

The plan includes a new approach to providing widespread access to prescription drugs, modeled after a successful effort in Louisiana. Under this approach, sometimesThe Netflix model” A drug company or companies agree to provide a complete supply of drugs to a population in need in exchange for a designated one-time payment. Under the current proposal, populations eligible for free hepatitis C medication include Medicaid enrollees, the uninsured, Native Americans, and those in prisons and jails. If set up correctly, many more people can receive life-saving services and the cost of treatment can be significantly reduced.

More drug availability is necessary for a successful hepatitis C eradication program, but it is not enough. That’s why the plan includes training, technical assistance and resources for primary care offices, federally qualified health centers, drug treatment centers, and jails and prisons that are at risk of infection. 40 percent or more. To help detect more people infected, the effort will help develop point-of-care tests that detect hepatitis C infection in less than an hour, allowing treatment to begin in one visit. It’s a huge improvement over current tests that require multiple clinic visits over the course of weeks to get results back and start treatment.

I am not the only one who has had the opportunity to stop this devastating disease. I’m getting a lot of support from across the country, both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But the big question is whether the effort can get the full bipartisan support it needs to move in this Congress.

I believe it can. People treated for hepatitis C avoid costly downstream medical needs for transplants and cancer treatments. In addition, a cured person cannot transmit it to others; As a result, every case treated today can prevent many cases in the future. It has a team of experts Estimate The National Initiative to End Hepatitis is estimated to save society more than $18 billion in health care costs over the next decade, and $13.3 billion of these savings will accrue to the federal government.

Eliminating Hepatitis C is a compassionate response to a country that cares for all its people – but it also reduces the deficit. Instead of curing Hepatitis C, we are costing taxpayers more to live. If we don’t act, we will continue to inflict the same pain I did on Rick’s suffering and death on many other families. Inaction is not preventable.

Francis Collins served as director of the National Institutes of Health from 2009 to 2021. Leads White House Initiative to Eliminate Hepatitis C

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