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Since September 2016, hundreds of staff from MSF have been providing care for patients with hepatitis E, in the region of Salamat, Chad. © Abdoulaye Barry

    There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.

    History of the disease

    With no great attempt at originality, they named the mysterious virus ‘non-A, non-B hepatitis’. In April 1989, ‘non-A, non-B’ was identified and became known as ‘hepatitis C virus’, or HCV. It was known to travel via the bloodstream and therefore could be transmitted by blood transfusion.

    Hepatitis worldwide

    With one and a half million deaths each year, hepatitis is in the top league of modern killer diseases. The disease takes many forms – A, B, C, D, E and G, but they’re not all equally serious or  common. Hepatitis C is mainly found in North Africa, the Indian Sub-Continent and in South-East Asia .

    The disease

    After blood contamination, the hepatitis C virus attacks the liver. Once installed inside the cells, it multiplies itself, alerting the immune system which then destroys all the infected cells. In cases of chronic infection, this process can lead to cirrhosis.

    Efficient treatments but too expensive

    New molecules able to fight hepatitis C have recently appeared on the market. This new generation of drugs is still out of reach for many patients because of its prohibitive price.

    A revolution in the treatment of hepatitis C

    For all the patients, the recent discovery of new antiviral drugs is a major change. But because of their high price, their use is rationed.

    In the United States, sofosbuvir costs $ 1,000 per tablet, $ 84,000 for a three-month treatment; In Luxembourg, the price for a treatment is 52 000 euros per patient. However, studies estimate that its cost of production is around a few hundred dollars per treatment.

    In 2014 and 2015, Gilead sold sofosbuvir for more than $ 15 billion worldwide.