The World Health Organization has dubbed hepatitis C, which infects as many as 185 million people worldwide, a "viral time bomb." On this World Hepatitis Day, July 28, it is important to know that this "bomb" can be defused if we can get companies to lower the price of treatment.
Unlike cancer or HIV, hepatitis C is curable in the majority of cases. Unfortunately, cure has been hampered by the fact that the bulk of people living with hepatitis C reside in low- and middle-income countries where the main medicine used in the current standard of care -- Pegylated Interferon-alfa (Peg-IFN) -- is priced out of reach. Two pharmaceutical giants -- Roche and Merck -- sell all of the brand-name Peg-IFN around the world. This duopoly allows the companies to charge exorbitant prices. Even in countries where patients have to pay for treatment out of their own pockets, the cost of hepatitis C treatment can be as high as $18,000 USD for a course of treatment. For too many, this is a price tag that means death.
We know these medicines need not be so expensive. As the table below shows, these companies agree to sell the same medicines at vastly different prices from country to country, with no apparent logic. And, it is widely known that the costs of manufacturing represent only a fraction of this high price tag, with the remainder, often over 90 percent, being profit.