WHO welcomes progress in access to Hepatitis C treatment in Viet Nam

HA NOI, 10 MAY 2017 - The World Health Organization welcomes new progress in Viet Nam to improve access to new life-saving hepatitis C treatments. The Ministry of Health of Viet Nam recently reached an agreement with the leading manufacturer of antiviral medicines for hepatitis C treatment, paving the way for people in Viet Nam to access these medicines at a substantially reduced price.

Since 2013, a new type of oral antiviral medicines to treat hepatitis C is available globally. These newly available medicines are a break-through offering a cure for over 95% of patients following a three to six months treatment. The new oral antiviral medicines are not only more efficacious, but also have fewer side effects, and are more convenient for patients as they can be taken orally. Previous hepatitis C treatments were costly and required regular injections.

In Viet Nam many people cannot yet afford the new oral antiviral medicines. For example, the most commonly prescribed regimen of the new antiviral medicines (a combination of sofosbuvir and ledipasvir) currently costs approximately 45 million Vietnamese dong (or US$2,000) for a three month treatment course. These medicines are also not yet reimbursed by Viet Nam’s health insurance.

Based on the agreement between the Ministry of Health of Viet Nam and the manufacturer, antiviral medicines will become available at “1% of the price at which the innovator drugs are being sold in the United States of America”*, which is expected to be around 20 million Vietnamese Dong for a three months cure. In return, the Ministry of Health will issue a license to fast-track drug registration for the hepatitis C medicines of the manufacturer. The Ministry of Health may also consider allowing importation of the generic version of the antiviral medicines produced by the manufacturers for which the originator manufacturer provided the voluntary license. Moreover, both sides agreed to build capacity for the production of generic version of antiviral medicines in Viet Nam. Registration is an important first step to allow for reimbursement of the medicines by the Viet Nam health insurance in the future.

With this agreement Viet Nam makes important progress in line with examples of other low and middle income countries where similar antiviral drugs are already available at a cost affordable to the population. For example, In Egypt, generic competition has reduced the price of a three month treatment course, from US$ 900 in 2015, to less than US$ 200 in 2016. Today in Pakistan, the same course costs as little as US$ 100.

"Maximizing access to lifesaving hepatitis C treatment is a priority for Viet Nam and for WHO," says Dr Lokky Wai, WHO Representative to Viet Nam. "I welcome this important decision by the Ministry of Health, which will facilitate improving the access to hepatitis C treatment by many people in Viet Nam who need them.”

WHO issued guidelines recommending the use of the antiviral medicines for hepatitis C treatment in 2014 and 2016 and included them on its Essential Medicines List – which is compiled to address the priority healthcare needs of populations; to make needed essential medicines available at all times in adequate amounts, at a price the health system and community can afford.

Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus. The virus can cause both acute and chronic hepatitis, ranging from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious lifelong illness including liver cancer.

Viet Nam is one of three countries in the Western Pacific that have the highest numbers of people with chronic hepatitis C. An estimated 1 million people in Viet Nam are living with chronic hepatitis C requiring treatment. The disease also places a heavy burden on the capacities and resources of Viet Nam’s health system.

New WHO data from the recent Global Hepatitis Report released in April 2017 reveals that an estimated 325 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Out of those 129 million (40%) are living in the Western Pacific Region (115 million with hepatitis B and 14 million with hepatitis C). The 2017 report also indicates that the large majority of these people lack access to life-saving testing and treatment. As a result, millions of people are at risk of a progression to chronic liver disease, cancer, and death.

The success of the price negotiation will help Vietnamese people to access curable medicines and contribute to achieving the target of treating 80% of people in need, and to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.

* Ministry of Health Press Release

Media contact

For more information, please contact
Ms. Tran Thi Loan
Tel: +84 (0) 4 38 500 100
Email: wpvnmmedia@who.int