Hepatitis can’t wait. Neither people

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My name is Anton Basenko. I’m a person living with HIV and a person who used drugs and who lived with hepatitis C for thirteen years; thirteen awful years without access to treatment, without even understanding that treatment is needed or thinking that treatment can wait.

 

Now, we are coming to World Hepatitis Day 2021 and this blog is an opportunity for me to speak about some important and critical things for us, for people from communities. This day is an opportunity to remember some messages from our reality which should be pushed on this day. Because this day is a day of attention to hepatitis.

 

I’m one of the first patients who had access to treatment with the new direct acting antivirals (DAA) in Ukraine. It was just hundreds of lucky people who had access with the support of international donors, like the Global Fund. In my case it was the end of 2016. So it’s more than five years that have passed from that time.

 

But what has been changed? What is going on now with access to treatment? Are the access issues resolved? No, it hasn’t. What we see is the increasing number of different new medications. Yes, we see the global decreasing of the costs of these treatments. But I’m asking myself, is it available? Is it accessible for people like me? For people from key affected communities, for people living in Eastern Europe, Central Asia?

 

Absolutely not. Not even in my country when now, finally, we have a national strategy on HIV, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis and as a result of the transition from donor funding to domestic funding our government started to procure a number of treatment courses with these new drugs.

 

But do you know how many courses are procured? It’s just 50 thousand courses annually, while according to experts’ estimate, 1,5 million people in Ukraine are living with HCV. Is 50 thousand enough? Absolutely not.

 

I think this blog and this day is an opportunity for me to remember once again that hepatitis C or other viral hepatitis issues are still there. Key populations lack access to treatment, and even if the treatment is there, it is limited by the number of courses. People should be prioritised. For example, people who inject drugs is not a prioritised group and they are stigmatised by the medical doctors who think that while you’re still using drugs you don’t need this treatment or this is just useless for you.

 

I really want to remind you that we talk about the WHO 53 Europe, when we are talking about the Europe. We see that in Western Europe the access to treatment is quite good and maybe it’s not an issue for people living with HIV or people who use drugs in some places in this area. But we are talking about WHO Europe, which is 53 countries, including Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

 

This is an opportunity for me to see that the problem of access to HCV treatment is still there and people still need treatment. There is also a problem with diagnostics and their cost as well as other structural systemic barriers to access treatment are present.

 

This year, WHO launched the campaign Hepatitis Can’t Wait. And I really support these words because hepatitis cannot wait and people cannot wait. Even if you think that you can wait you’d better not do it because sometimes the consequences of hepatitis C are just really critical.

 

Let’s agree that hepatitis can’t wait. This means that treatment should be there immediately and access should be really simple, like fast-track access to viral hepatitis treatment for people living with HIV and people from key affected communities.

by Anton Basenko

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