Norwegian initiative will strengthen global prevention and treatment of hepatitis C

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The UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs has adopted a Norwegian resolution calling for strengthened measures to treat and prevent hepatitis C among people who use drugs.

Globally, hepatitis C is the most common cause of death among people who use drugs. More than three times as many people in this group die of hepatitis C compared to those who die of HIV/AIDS.

Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein emphasised that the resolution will play an important role in strengthening international efforts to prevent and treat hepatitis C related to drug use.

‘Increased efforts are needed if the international community is to achieve the WHO’s goal of eradicating viral hepatitis as a public health problem by 2030. In addition, this will help the many often very vulnerable people in poor countries who use drugs – and their families,’ said Mr Ulstein.

There is also a high prevalence of hepatitis C among current or former drug users in Norway.

‘We have found this treatment to be effective, and it is now given to everyone who has hepatitis C. The treatment also has a preventive effect, as patients are completely cured and no longer infectious, but it is also important to continue with other preventive measures,’ Minister of Health Bent Høie said.

According to estimates from the World Health Organization (WHO), 71 million people suffer from chronic hepatitis C. Approximately 23 % of all new hepatitis C infections are believed to be caused by injecting drugs. This is the most frequent source of infection apart from the use of contaminated equipment within health care services. Globally, half of those who inject drugs have hepatitis C.

There was previously no effective cure for hepatitis C, but new medicines have revolutionised treatment. A course of treatment consists of tablets to be taken over a three-month period. There are hardly any side effects, and more than 95 % recover fully. These medicines used to be very expensive, but the prices have been drastically reduced, to less than USD 50 per patient in a number of countries. As the resolution was being drafted, many of those working with drug problems worldwide became aware of the huge benefits this treatment offers. Efforts to prevent infection, for example by ensuring the use clean needles and syringes, are also crucial.

The resolution was adopted by consensus on 22 March 2019. Norway sponsored the resolution, together with Australia, Andorra, Armenia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Egypt, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Ukraine, Uruguay and the 28 member states of the European Union.