The high cost of medicines has undermined treatment of hepatitis B and C in Vietnam, where their rates of chronic infection is high, according to a conference in Hanoi Monday.
A course of treatment for the diseases costs up to VND45 million (US$2,016), according to Nguyen Van Kinh, director of the National Hospital for Tropical Diseases.
By using generic drugs, similar treatment costs only $200 in Egypt and $250 in India, he said.
Vietnam has been negotiating prices with drug suppliers, but even if it succeeds in bringing them down, the treatment cost would remain as high as $700-$800 in 2017, he said.
Statistics presented at the conference showed that hepatitis prevalence in Vietnam is among the highest in the Western Pacific region.
Graphic: World Health Organization
Some 8.7 million people are chronically infected with hepatitis B virus (HBV) and 1 million with hepatitis C virus (HCV) out of Vietnam’s population of 90 million.
HBV caused more than 23,000 deaths and HCV, about 6,000 deaths in the country last year.
Yet only 5 percent of those chronically infected were aware of their condition, and just less than 1 percent of them actually underwent treatment, the statistics showed.
Kinh said studies by his hospital showed that prohibitively high medicine costs dissuade patients from pursuing treatment even after health insurance covers part of the cost.
About 43 percent of the chronically infected patients surveyed said they could afford only VND3 million for treatment, he said. If the course cost VND10 million, only 10 percent more said they could afford it.
The country is also lagging behind in terms of prevention, experts said at the event.
The World Health Organization advises that routine hepatitis B vaccination should be given to children, the first shot within 24 hours after birth.
In Vietnam, however, just 50-60 percent of newborns get it within 24 hours, according to Duong Thi Hong, deputy director of the National Institute Of Hygiene And Epidemiology.
The rate is particularly low - down to 11-12 percent - in some remote provinces, she said.