Statement |

Preparedness, surveillance and response: Hepatitis. MSF intervention at 67th WHA

Speaker: Dr. Jennifer Cohn, MSF Access Medical Director

World Health Assembly 67 – Agenda item 12.3

Given the unprecedented opportunities to address viral hepatitis today, Médecins Sans Frontières urges Member States not to miss this key opportunity to turn the tide of viral hepatitis.

New oral treatments like sofosbuvir are revolutionising HCV treatment by providing pan-genotypic, well-tolerated and shorter regimens with high cure rates. Treatment simplification, decentralisation, task-shifting and scale up of HCV should now be possible in low- and middle-income countries.  Recently released WHO guidelines will also support countries to implement HCV programmes. 

However, for government programmes to address the true burden of the epidemic, new oral treatments must be affordable, available in high-burden countries and supported by funding from national and international sources. Research has shown that these drugs could potentially cost less than $500 for a package of diagnosis and treatment, far less than the astronomic prices being sought by the pharmaceutical industry for the new drugs.

While some of these points are included, MSF feels the resolution should be strengthened in the following ways:

  • Member States should be urged to implement hepatitis B birth-dose vaccination, as well as increased screening for HBV and providing treatment with quality-assured affordable existing drugs like tenofovir and entecavir
  • Price-reducing generic competition should be stressed as the key intervention to ensure access to revolutionary treatments for HCV. The use of all public health flexibilities to secure generic competition should be promoted. Patent monopolies should not restrict treatment to only those who can afford to pay.
  • HCV drugs should be included in WHO’s Prequalification programme.
  • Funders such as the Global Fund, UNITAID and PEPFAR should include hepatitis B and C treatment and care as part of their priorities.

The HIV/AIDS experience shows that civil society pressure plays a vital role in increasing access to treatment, but ultimately it is the political will of governments to protect public health that will lead to affordable treatment.