Malta plans to be the first country to eradicate Hepatitis C by 2025

New drive will see 200 Hepatitis C patients a year cured free of charge, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne says

Eradication of Hepatitis C virus from Malta is targeted for 2025
Eradication of Hepatitis C virus from Malta is targeted for 2025

There are currently 1,000 people living with Hepatitis C in Malta and government plans to cure them all over the next seven years, Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne said.

The Health Ministry opened a 30-day public consultation process on Wednesday to formalise a new strategy to cure all the country's Hepatitis C patients by 2025.

Fearne said the health authorities planned to cure an average of 200 patients a year.

"Our aim is to eradicate Hepatitis C from our country by 2025," he said, making Malta one of the first countries in the world to do so.

He explained that the virus could stay with a person their whole life, and that while two-thirds might see no effect, it could be fatal for the remainder.

Fearne, who is also health minister, said that up until recently curing the disease was not possible in most cases, but recent pharmaceutical advancements had now made it possible to cure most cases in eight weeks.

Despite the breakthrough, he said the drugs remained expensive, and at €75,000 per patient, would have been "one and a half times the entire medicines budget".

"Although it was available it wasn't accessible," Fearne said, adding that this had prompted the government to enter into negotiations with suppliers of the drug for more reasonable prices.

Under the agreement, he said, the government would buy the drug at a more reasonable, but commercially sensitive price, and would only pay the manufacturer in cases were patients were completely cured.

The strategy will be focusing on four main principles: prevention, screening and diagnosis, treatment and monitoring. 

Fearne stressed that people who shared needles, worked in environments where they came in contact with blood or had sexual relationships with those carrying the virus were more susceptible to the disease. 

He said a process of screening of key populations, including drug users and inmates at the Corradino Correctional Facility would also start once the strategy commences.