By now most people have heard about the relatively recent breakthrough in medicine: a complete cure for hepatitis C that completely eradicates the virus in over 95% of those infected. Unfortunately, it is also common knowledge that access to the life-saving medicine is highly restricted due to how expensive it is, even for those with health insurance. Even more unfortunate is the fact that hepatitis C cases are on the rise, even though most experts agree that the virus could potentially be completely eradicated due to the new medicine. New York state has been especially hard hit by the rise in cases, and it is hitting the population least likely to be able to afford treatment.
Hepatitis C affects millions of people globally. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 400,000 people die every year from the disease or related complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Unfortunately, this disease is making a resurgence in the state of New York due to the opioid crisis that is sweeping the nation. The virus is passed along mostly through coming into contact with tainted blood, and sharing needles are the primary cause of the uptick in hepatitis C cases. In just five years from 2005 to 2010, the number of new hepatitis C cases has tripled, following decades of steady decline. According to a physician quoted in the article, one of the biggest ways New York state could help reduce the number of cases is by ensuring drug users have access to clean needles. However, even advocates for these programs claim that setting up enough needle exchange programs would require a lot of money and resources in order to really make a difference in the hardest hit communities. One of the issues is that the opioid epidemic is affecting rural communities far away from cities who do not the resources to help their people. In contrast, the AIDS epidemic in the 80s was a battle fought and won in mostly urban centers.
Even if you cannot the afford the incredibly expensive medication to cure hepatitis C, there are a variety of other treatment options available. This gastroenterologist in New York, even though you may think they only treat stomach and intestinal issues from the name, also specializes in liver diseases, including hepatitis C. However, even other treatments may still cost prohibitive to the most vulnerable populations of drug users, so needle exchanges are still a necessity.
Until the cost of the cure for Hepatitis C comes down, we must do all we can to help those most at risk for contracting the disease. It is disheartening that a complete cure exists for the very few that can afford it, but the state of New York can quell the number of new cases by providing needle exchange programs. Everyone deserves a chance at a normal life, and it is our duty as humans to help our fellow man, no matter the circumstances.