Curing Hepatitis C in Egypt

Sovaldi Hepatitis C

A few decades ago a poorly–but widely–administered effort to immunize against a local disease resulted in ten percent of the Egyptian population becoming afflicted with Hepatitis C.

Over the past year several headlines have celebrated the partnership of the Egyptian government with drug companies offering new treatments at a fraction of the cost.

A recent article from the New York Times describes the campaign as a grand experiment to get medicine to the poor while preserving international profit rates for producers.

As the AIDS crisis took world attention in the 1980s, this sector was slammed for abandoning the African continent. In Egypt, they are trying to apply lessons learned.

Worldwide, four times as many people suffer from Hepatitis C than AIDS.

Last year, Gilead Sciences, based in California, offered an alternative.

The company makes sofosbuvir, which since 2013 has been sold in the United States as Sovaldi for about $1,000 per one-a-day pill. A course of the drug, taken with ribavirin and often interferon, usually cures hepatitis C infection in 12 weeks.

Sofosbuvir is an enormous blockbuster; in its first year on the market, the drug earned Gilead more than $10 billion.

But for the past year, Gilead has sold the drug to the Egyptian government for about $10 a pill. The government distributes it to pharmacies across the country, where it is dispensed free to patients.

But here is the catch, to fight the black market:

All pills must be dispensed by government pharmacies, for example, and all patients must turn in an old bottle to get a fresh one. Those receiving new bottles must immediately unscrew the cap, break the seal and take the first pill in front of the pharmacist — making it nearly impossible to resell the bottle.

And though many have criticized on human rights grounds, the government-drug maker partnership understands its audience:

“I agree with this completely,” said Mr. Ellabbad, the air-conditioning repairman. “I’m a poor man. If I did not have to hand in the bottle each time, I might have sold them to buy my son a house.”

The article is thorough and fascinating. Click here to read it in full at the New York Times, and wish Egypt all success.

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