Thousands of prisoners with hepatitis C do not receive medication

The Prison Service treated only 10 to 20 prisoners last year.

INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week. (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
INMATES WALK through the Hermon Prison in northern Israel last week.
(photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)
Only 10 to 20 prisoners in the entire Prisons Service system receive medication for the potentially fatal but curable hepatitis C, even though the number of infected prisoners is estimated at 3,000.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), chairman of the Knesset Committee on Drug Abuse, said on Tuesday that it was “illogical” not to treat infected prisoners as they could infect others, need a very expensive liver transplant or die.
“Thousands of prisoners do not know that they are carriers of hepatitis C,” Julio Borman, director of Hetz, a voluntary organization that promotes awareness of hepatitis C, told the committee. In addition, the percentage of carriers among addicts is 67%, compared to 2% of the general population, he said.
Apparently, the Prisons Service is aware of only 384 of the carriers, leaving some 2,600 prisoners undiagnosed. The Prisons Service treated only 10 to 20 prisoners last year.
“According to professional estimates, there are probably 100 times more carriers than that within the prison walls,” said Zandberg. “The Prisons Service must locate the carriers and assess the needs of these prisoners, so that we do not conceal any data from them.”
Dr. Amelia Anis, director of the Health Ministry’s epidemiology department, said: “In the past, treatment of the disease involved many serious side effects and the success rate was only 50%. Today, there is a groundbreaking treatment, lasting only 12 weeks, that has almost no side effects and a 95% success rate of recovery. The treatment has been included in the health basket since 2015. The cost of treatment is NIS 80,000 to NIS 100,000 per person, but few ask for treatment.”
Orly, a nurse at Carmel Medical Center in Haifa, said: “I sent letters to 800 doctors about patients of theirs who were carriers, but only 450 of them responded, and only 40% of the patients were treated.”
“There is a tendency to blame the people, but a healthy person does not run to the clinic to be examined. We must concentrate efforts and raise awareness of this at-risk population,” said Zandberg, who suggested that few go for treatment because of the NIS 900 co-payment charged health fund members.
Mor Nahari, of the Israel AIDS Task Force, said that “methadone users are being monitored, but many homeless people who live in the street are afraid to go to a liver specialist. In addition to the co-payments, there is the problem of red tape. One must go four times to a family physician to get treatment, and homeless people are unable to do this.”