(photo credit: INGIMAGE / ASAP)
Hepatitis C carriers -- the majority of them immigrants from the former Soviet Union -- are a ticking bomb, as there are drugs that cure the disease but they are not in the basket of health services, according to experts who spoke at the Knesset Immigration and Absorption Committee on Tuesday. There are an estimated 100,000 carriers of hepatitis C who are unaware of their condition. Decades after infection, will trigger cirrhosis and liver cancer in about one-fifth of them.
The session was held to mark Israel Hepatitis Awareness Day. Hepatitis C, very common among baby boomers, immigrants and intravenous drug users, is one of the most dangerous forms of hepatitis as, unlike hepatitis B, there is no vaccine to protect against it. Carrying the virus is very common among people who received blood transfusions before 1992 when donations were tested, FSU immigrants and intravenous drug users. Every year, some 1.4 million people die from the chronic types of hepatitis. In Israel, liver diseases are the 12th most common killers of Israelis, causing three deaths per 100,000 male residents and 1.7 among females.
Committee chairman MK Yoel Razbozov of Yesh Atid, who initiated the session, charged that the Health Ministry lacks exact and current data on the number of Israelis with chronic hepatitis B and C or on the economic costs of the diseases.
The Israeli Association for Liver Health said that of the estimated 100,000 carriers of hepatitis C, 80 percent are from the FSU. If they are not diagnosed early and treated with medications, many will fall seriously ill and due -- infecting others in the meantime. Hepatitis C (HCV) is spread through contact with an infected person’s blood -- from genital sores, cuts or menstruation. HCV has been detected with greater-than-average frequency among people who have a history of sexual promiscuity.
Deputy chairman of the committee, Shas MK Ya’acov Margi said that public awareness of the danger of hepatitis C is low. “I don’t know if the Health Ministry has done enough to try to locate carriers, but how can it be that there is no computerized data bank to identify people at high risk and drugs that they need?” The national program to fight hepatitis C, presented by ministry public health chief Prof. Itamar Grotto, was “well intentioned, but we must not wait for a national program to be carried out. I call on the four public health funds to encourage members who are at high risk to be tested,” said Margi.
Association chairman Julio Gorman said that during the past 20 years, no carriers whose blood was tested for the virus was informed of his condition, and they went on to infect others. “I myself am a carrier and was cured, but I learned of my status only by chance.”
Four very expensive drugs for treating and even curing carriers of hepatitis C are marketed, but none of them is in the basket. The public committee that by the end of December will recommend NIS 300 million worth of new medical technologies is discussing the drugs, but it is not certain if any will be included and become available for patients.