Digby’s column has a good news true story.
Digby’s column has a good news true story.

Battle being won over the Hepatitis C virus

LET ME bring you a good news story, and a true one – respite from the mephitic cloud of lies and negativity emanating from the swampy campaign trail. 

And what’s remarkable is that it’s happening in the beleaguered health sector. 

Across the region, and well beyond, many thousands of men and women are recovering their health through a drug program that in a huge percentage of cases is healing them of the Hepatitis C virus. 

Their livers are rapidly being restored to full functionality, and a host of problems created by fibrosis in that organ beginning to vanish. 

The disease may present no symptoms for years: it’s a “silent epidemic”. But in later stages it brings exhaustion, pain, nausea and itching, which sufferers learn to live with. 

And it’s lethal, killing more people in the US than 60 other infectious diseases, including HIV and tuberculosis. 

Now, after a few months of largely innocuous treatment, Australian patients are emerging with strong bodies and clear heads. They’re healthy again for the first time in decades. 

Early on, blood tests show the virus is “undetected”, liver function is normal again; all other signs are good. 

The patients, and I am one of them, are receiving their antiviral drugs either through the public health system, for which the government is paying the shameless Gilead a fortune, or they are a part of an extensive network through HepC Treatment Without Borders. 

Enlightened Tasmanian GP James Freeman led the way in Australia in making it possible for sick people to access generic drugs from India and elsewhere.  

Hundreds did, and still are, true pioneers, and paying a fraction of the price Gilead has squeezed out of us.  

To his credit Malcolm Turnbull saw the need to address the virus before it burst into the health system as an epidemic of liver cancer and god knows what else besides, at huge costs. 

It may be the last – the only - decent decision the man has made since becoming PM, but he looked at the stats: 230,000 Australians are infected. 

The liver clinic in Lismore and the Base Hospital’s pharmacy are doing a sterling job coping with the rush of new patients, all of them motivated by the promise of life. 

These drugs are new and we are all to some extent guinea pigs. 

But for now, the healing has begun and we’re rejoicing: a battle is being won.

 



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