The rapid uptake of life-saving new hepatitis C medicine Maviret since it was funded by PHARMAC a year ago means the elimination of the deadly disease from this country is a realistic goal, Health Minister David Clark says.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus which attacks the liver, proving fatal for about 200 New Zealanders each year. PHARMAC has been funding Maviret – a treatment with a 98 per cent cure rate – since February last year.
“I’m delighted we’re off to a flying start toward our goal of eliminating this disease from New Zealand with almost 3400 people treated with Maviret in the first year alone,” David Clark said.
“Maviret has real potential to cure almost all of the 40,000 New Zealanders now thought to have the disease, hundreds of whom would otherwise go on to develop cirrhosis, liver cancer and require liver transplants.”
Maviret was developed with significant input from Auckland University and Auckland City Hospital liver specialist Professor Ed Gane.
“We know that that a lot of people have been diagnosed but have not yet accessed treatment,” says Professor Gane.
“We also think about half of those people who have the disease have never been tested at all and therefore those people need to be aware that they could have hepatitis C, and that there’s universal cure which is simple – eight weeks of tablets once a day and you’re cured. That will have a huge impact.”
David Clark says Professor Gane deserves huge credit for his work over many years treating New Zealanders with hepatitis C and his research towards the development of Maviret.
“This is a fantastic example of kiwis healing kiwis with the backing of PHARMAC and the Government. I’m incredibly proud of what Professor Gane and our health services have achieved to date with this treatment and I’m sure they will continue to build on this work.
“For the sake of your long term health and the wellbeing of your family, if you think there’s even a tiny chance you may have contracted hepatitis C, get tested so you can access Maviret if you need it and get cured, David Clark said.
Aucklander Stephen Hassan is among those who did exactly that, and is now free of the disease.
“I had no symptoms and certainly wasn’t expecting to have hepatitis C,” says Stephen.
“I was one of the lucky ones, discovering it before it did too much damage and as it turns out, I was the first patient to access funded Maviret twelve months ago. Following an eight week treatment programme taken at home, I’m now hepatitis C free, and so grateful for that.
“It’s not a hard thing to do and if you’ve ever been at risk definitely take that step and find out for your own peace of mind because the treatment we have now is a real blessing,” Stephen Hassan says.
David Clark says the early success of Maviret in curing New Zealanders like Stephen demonstrates the strength of the PHARMAC model.
“Maviret is not a cheap medicine, but its availability shows that where the benefits of new treatments are clear and substantial, PHARMAC moves quickly to make them available to New Zealanders.
PHARMAC chief executive Sarah Fitt is thrilled to know how much life has changed for those who have taken Maviret.
“Everything we do at PHARMAC is about getting the best health outcomes for all New Zealanders from the medicines we fund. I am immensely proud that PHARMAC has been able to fund what is essentially a cure for a serious illness like hepatitis C.”
Hepatitis C is highly contagious and is spread through infected blood. It can be contracted in a number of ways: through piercings or tattoos with contaminated equipment or ink, if you had a blood transfusion in New Zealand before 1992, or if you’ve shared needles for injecting drugs – even once.