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Speaking at a conference in Dublin organised by the State Claims Agency, Mr Brian O’Mahony commented: “We are down to a very small number who still need treatment; success rates with the new treatment have been very good, and I think that’s a good news story, which hopefully we’ll be seeing in the media before the end of the year.”
He referred to the “appalling catastrophe” that hit the community between the early 1970s and 1990s, whereby some 240 people with haemophilia were infected with hepatitis C and 106 with HIV through contaminated blood/blood products.
Some 105 of the 106 people infected with HIV were co-infected with hepatitis C. Between 1985 and 2015, there were 112 deaths of haemophiliacs arising from the contaminated treatment products.
The previous generation of hepatitis C treatments were much longer in duration, often with severe side effects. “In the clinical trials, they had success rates of about 70 per cent. In the Irish population who were treated with these drugs, the success rate was 51 per cent and the haemophilia group was 80 per cent. The difference was down entirely to adherence – every single one of the people with haemophilia finished the treatment, apart from one person who died during the treatment.”
High adherence rates helped the Society make a case to the Department of Health for prioritising people with haemophilia for direct-acting antivirals (DAAs).
Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), Mr O’Mahony said the Society had emphasised the State’s “moral obligation” to ensure people infected through blood/blood products supplied by the State had access to treatment as quickly as possible. The then Minister for Health Leo Varadkar agreed that this cohort would get access to treatment before the end of 2017.
Mr O’Mahony noted that the early-access DAA programme operated purely on a clinical need basis, targeting the sickest patients. When treatment began to roll-out subsequently, the cohort of State-infected patients were among those given priority.
“An exception was made for patients who were infected by blood products supplied by the State and an exception was also made for post-liver transplant patients, which makes perfect sense,” he said.