Norwegian hepatitis C patients wait for treatment due to medicine monopoly: report

Norwegian hepatitis C patients wait for treatment due to medicine monopoly: report
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Norwegian hepatitis C patients are waiting longer than they should for medical treatment due in part to a monopoly on its supply, according to a report.

Between 15,000 and 20,000 Norwegians live with the chronic condition, which is treated with a 12-week course of medicine.

The cost of a 12-week course of the Epclusa medicine in Norway is 540,000 kroner (57,000 euros), according to the Klassekampen newspaper.

American pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences owns a monopoly on supply of the medicine in the Scandinavian country, according to the report.

The medicine, which can cure the disease, is not prescribed to patients with the type 2 and 3 forms of hepatitis C – around 60 percent of sufferers in Norway – until their livers show clear signs of damage.

Although it can take many years from contracting the disease until the liver starts to fail, patients not given the treatment sooner are left with uncertain physical consequences as well as the psychological distress of living with the infectious condition, writes Klassekampen.

People with hepatitis C are not automatically entitled to the treatment, but are given it once symptoms are present.

Ronny Bjørnestad, head of NGO Prolar, which works to improve understanding of the illness, told Klassekampen that he had decided to obtain the treatment by going abroad.

“I felt I couldn’t wait any longer. I have a ticking bomb in my liver and am still infectious. I have a teenager in my house and it wouldn’t take any more than him accidentally using my razor blade for an accident to happen,” he told Klassekampen.

Bjørnestad said that he had purchased the same medicine for the equivalent of 7,500 kroner (800 euros) in Bangladesh, and then had it sent on to a friend in Scotland.

It is legal for Bjørnestad to bring the medicine back to Norway provided he begins the course of treatment while in Scotland, writes Klassekampen.

“If it was an illness that [mainly] affected a group with stronger resources then this would never have been accepted,” he told the newspaper.

The disease has relatively high prevalence amongst former and active drug addicts.

Olav Dalgard, consultant at the department of infectious diseases at Akershus University Hospital, told Klassekampen that the price of Hepatitis C medicine in Norway is “amorally” high.

“If we had cheaper medicine, we would recommend treatment of far more people at a much earlier stage. It would reduce the risk of disease spread. But prices must be reduced for that to be possible” Dalgard told Klassekampen.

The newspaper has contacted Gilead Sciences for comment. 

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