Additional 1,500 people to be given life-saving hepatitis C treatment

New drugs offer chance of cure in over 90% of patients

The national hepatitis C treatment programme is to be extended as part of a plan to eliminate the disease in Ireland by 2026, the HSE has announced.

The next phase of the strategy will provide an additional 1,500 people with access to life-saving drugs. The directly acting antivirals (DAAs) offer a cure for hepatitis C in the majority of patients.  

Nearly 700 people have been treated for the infection since late 2014.

An estimated 20,000 to 50,000 people in Ireland are chronically infected with hepatitis C, according to the HSE.

The disease - dubbed “the silent pandemic” - is mostly spread by blood-to-blood contact and usually causes no obvious symptoms.

The body’s natural defence system can eliminate the virus in about 15-30% of cases.

The last phase of the HSE treatment programme prioritised seriously ill patients with end-stage liver disease and cirrhosis, as well as those who became infected through contaminated blood products.

The next stage of the plan will allow the HSE to include 1,500 other people in the programme, based on their clinical diagnosis.

Pharmaceutical companies

Minister for Health Simon Harris today welcomed the move, which he said was made possible by €30 million in government funding.

“The new DAA drugs that the programme covers give over 90% of those treated the chance to be cured of this serious illness which can persist for decades before manifesting itself,” he said.

“Expanding the programme will enable more people to get that chance at a cure, improving their lives immeasurably, while also helping free up scarce resources in our hospitals."

The clinical lead for the scheme, Professor Suzanne Norris, said: “As a clinician who has been working with patients living with hepatitis C for many years, I am delighted that we are now in a position to offer this extremely effective and successful drug treatment to more patients.

“It is not often that we say we can cure a patient of a disease but these new medicines offer the chance of cure in excess of 90% of patients who complete a course of treatment.”

John Hennessey, national director of primary care for the HSE, said the health service will continue to work with pharmaceutical companies to ensure Ireland gets “the best possible price” for DAAs.