Blood samples at the Sälen health care centre.
Blood samples at the Sälen health care centre. Photo: Jennie-Lie Kjörnsberg/Sveriges Radio Dalarna

Hep C drugs too expensive for Swedish healthcare

New, revolutionary treatments can cure people suffering from the serious viral infection hepatitis c. But thousands of Swedish Hep C patients cannot access the drugs - they are simply too expensive.

"There's been a scientific breakthrough" explains Bettina Kashefi, chief economist at the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.

She says that in this past year, four new drugs have been launched that can completely cure a patient of Hepatitis C. And that, she says, an incredible discovery.

Hepatitis C is an infectious, bloodborn disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus. It can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer, or in the worst case scenario, death.

Many of those infected are drug addicts, while others might have got it through poorly sterilized medical equipment or blood transfusions.

Finding a cure for Hepatitis C has long been a scientific dream. And now it's finally here. But the new drugs are far from cheap.

A one-year course of treatment costs as much as SEK 600,000 for just one patients. And there are around 40,000 people with Hepatitis C in Sweden.

To treat them all would add up to a total of SEK 24 billion. This in turn would most likely mean significant cutbacks in other areas of Swedish health care.

On the other hand, letting thousands of people suffering from a serious disease go untreated is not a cheap solution either. So the Dental and Pharmaceutical Benefits Agency, TLV, has decided that only the most serious cases will get their drugs subsidized by the state.

Even so, the pricetag will still end up somewhere between SEK 1 and 2 billion for next year. Exactly how the costs will be shared between county council and state coffers has yet to be decided.

But Bettina Kashefi says she expects to get the full sum.

"These are very complicated negociations," she says. "But we're assuming this is something that the state will take responsibility for together with the county councils."

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