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Guyana gets drugs to treat potentially cancer-causing hepatitis C

Last Updated on Friday, 29 July 2022, 21:40 by Denis Chabrol

Left to right: Chief Medical Officer Dr Narine Singh, Health Minister Dr Frankie Anthony and PAHO Representative in Guyana Dr Luis Codina who symbolically presented supplies of hepatitis c rapid test kits and treatment.

An estimated 600 Guyanese, who are  infected with hepatitis C, would no longer risk developing liver cirrhosis or cancer as the disease could now be treated, health officials said.

“They would now be able to access care which means that  in say 10, 15 years from now, once they are accessing care, we are going to prevent people from having cirrhosis,  preventing some of those persons from having cancer and, therefore, we are preventing these complications that parents would normally have,” Health Minister Dr Frank Anthony said.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Narine Singh said latest available figures show that in Guyana there is a 2.5 percent hepatitis c prevalence, with 24 persons dying every year.

The hepatitis C treatment programme was launched on Thursday, with assistance from the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO), to mark World Hepatitis Day whose theme was “Bringing Hepatitis Care Closer to You”. Dr Anthony said that programme was the first in Guyana and the Caribbean so “we’re leading the way.”

He said PAHO’s Strategic Fund played a major role in sourcing the hepatitis C treatment at a cost of US$160 per patient for the entire period instead of brand name drugs at US$2,000 per patient.  Dr Anthony said that using databases from the National Blood Transfusion Service, National AIDS Programme Secretariat and renal failure patients, they are being contacted for confirmatory testing and told to go to National Treatment and Care Centre.

The Health Minster recommended that Guyana conduct research into hepatitis c treatment, documentation and publish the works to inform the wider Caribbean on how to follow the local model and so reduce the disease across the region.

PAHO Representative to Guyana, Dr. Luis Felipe Codina said about nine years ago the cost of hepatitis C treatment was between US$67,000 and US$90,000, and according to Dr Anthony, that was the same as a liver transplant. PAHO has supplied the rapid tests and medicine for the initial 600 patients, but Dr Codina said there are more infected persons. “This is the beginning because we know there is a lot of hepatitis C patients that are not diagnosed as yet,” he said.

The Chief Medical Officer said the newer anti-retrovirals could cure more than 95 percent of hepatitis C infected persons. He explained that the hepatitis C treatment programme would be building on the existing hepatitis B surveillance, vaccination, diagnosis and treatment and care initiative.