Waiting for hepatitis drug

Published February 12, 2015
.—Reuters/File
.—Reuters/File

AN estimated 10 million hepatitis C patients in the country may hear the good news soon.

A life-saving drug to be administered orally to such patients is expected to be cleared for distribution next week, long after it got the approval of the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan.

Also read: Inordinate delay in approval of hepatitis C drug

The matter has been pending with the Federal Ministry of Health Services Regulations and Coordination for the last three months, which somehow could not take out the time to give a formal nod to the medicine called Sovaldi. Whereas doctors have prescribed the tablet to a few thousand suffering Pakistanis in anticipation of its availability on the local market, one distribution company has been selected for its supply.

The company is going to buy it from the United States. It was initially in competition with many other aspiring distributors, but managed to convince DRAP that it had the right combination of price and quality.

As opposed to the painful process of getting injections over a prolonged period, the patients will be required to take one tablet of Sovaldi daily.

At around Rs2,000 a tablet it is a very costly medication, but as compared to the interferon injection the oral drug is said to have fewer side effects and greater efficiency.

Experts say the tablet has a 95pc success rate and it is already being tried as a remedy for hepatitis C in many countries.

With a slightly more efficient ministry in place the drug could have been made available to patients in Pakistan much earlier than its expected introduction now. If that gives one a cause to sigh and protest at official lethargy, it is something that cannot be undone.

Millions in the country will now be hoping that the medicine lives up to its billing as a life-saver. One hopes that this will encourage other drug companies to find and market affordable alternatives — without compromising on quality and efficacy — so that the maximum number of hepatitis C patients can benefit.

Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2015

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