PESHAWAR: The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department is likely to approve a new medicine to provide effective treatment to the patients suffering from chronic hepatitis C.

The tablet ‘Velpatasvir’ has been approved by the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (Drap) last month and the KP Hepatitis Control Programme will hold a meeting with the gastroenterologists within a fortnight to introduce the drug officially for free availability to the patients, according to Dr Kalimullah Khan.

Dr Kalim, who is head of the programme, told Dawn that the new pill was very effective in the treatment of hepatitis C patients with damaged liver.

KP Hepatitis Control Programme head says ‘Velpatasvir’ tablet approved by Drap

It will also save the patients from undergoing liver transplantation which cost more than Rs7 million because it had proven efficacy in patients suffering from liver cirrhosis, he said.

He said that the government had allowed five firms to import the pills which would be used by patients for three months. The pill consists of two drugs and would be easy for the patients to use, he said.

Dr Kalim said that the drug was effective in all genotypes of hepatitis C due to which the patients wouldn’t be subjected to investigation to know the specific genotype.

In Pakistan, 90 per cent patients suffer from genotype-3 while the rest had other types for which the doctors had to investigate them before putting them on certain type of medication, he said.

He said that the charges of genotype test ranged between Rs1,000 and Rs1,500.

It is useful for patients with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection genotypes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6, he explained.

In January 2017, the health department started giving free ‘Sofosbuvir’ oral tablets to the patients in place of ‘Interferon’ injection, which were given for six months as treatment.

Three months later, the province launched a three-month treatment regime for hepatitis C patients who were using ‘Daclatasavir’ in combination with Sofosbuvir tablet.

Dr Kalim said that around 12,000 patients had been receiving the three-month treatment, with 98 per cent efficacy rate. “Our doctors are researching the effectiveness of the treatment rate among patients in Charsadda and Mardan districts,” he said.

“We would discuss the introduction of the new drug with the gastroenterologists and if they advise, we can purchase the same for free distribution among the patients,” he said.

Gastroenterologists at the Peshawar hospitals said that they had already started prescribing ‘Velpatasvir’ to the patients and the results were encouraging. Initially, its price was Rs27,000 for 90 tablets in the market which had now dropped to Rs8,000, they said.

According to them, the medicine was more effective in the patients with chronic liver cirrhosis who had no other option, but to go for transplantation.

A senior physician said that medical science had made advancement in the area of liver medication and it was advisable for the KP Health Department to launch the new medicine for better treatment of the patients.

He said that it was also necessary to spread awareness of causes of hepatitis and put in place infection control measures for prevention of diseases.

Published in Dawn, July 9th, 2018