Reducing Medication Prices to Treat Hepatitis in Cameroon
The healthcare system in Cameroon has battled an array of complications that afflict the country: diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria, as well as high numbers of child and maternal deaths. The constant turmoil in North Cameroon and neighboring countries has left the healthcare system in shambles. The increase in displaced people only adds to the taxed healthcare system.

Unfortunately, in the midst of Cameroon’s trials, a disease that is relatively new to the area, has infiltrated the fragile country. Hepatitis in Cameroon has become the disease with the highest level of prevalence. The prevalence rate is 10 percent for hepatitis B (HBV) and 13 percent for hepatitis C (HCV), a much higher rate than HIV/AIDS for the country. Cameroon is the second country most afflicted by hepatitis.

HBV is a virus that attacks the liver and is live-threatening. It is contracted through contact with blood or bodily fluids from someone who is infected. Fortunately, there is a vaccine available to help protect people from HBV.

Children are more at risk for developing chronic HBV than otherwise healthy adults. There is no treatment for acute HBV, only symptom management. Chronic HBV requires the treatment of antiviral medications. However, the disease is usually not cured, only suppressed, and those with chronic HBV will be on medication to contain the disease for the rest of their lives.

HCV is also a disease caused by an infection of the liver, but it can develop into cancer. HCV may manifest acutely, resolving itself in a manner of months, or chronically, resulting in the need of medication and a higher risk of developing cancer.

HCV can spread through the sharing of needles, unsanitary medical supplies or unscreened blood transfusions. Unlike HBV there is no vaccine for HCV. Antiviral medication can treat and cure the disease. However, resources for diagnoses and treatment for those in need are often limited.

The major factors leading to the occurrence of hepatitis in Cameroon are cost, insufficient medical supplies and personnel, as well as a lack of awareness. Immunizations have been deployed to help tackle the epidemic but ignorance, mostly in rural areas, continues to prevail.

Back in 2012, when hepatitis first began to encroach upon Cameroon, the government contacted a leading pharmaceutical company to negotiate a price reduction for medication to treat hepatitis in Cameroon. They successfully reached an agreement that decreased the cost of medication by 33 percent.

In January of this year, more good news spread with the announcement of another reduction in price. Medication for hepatitis would be reduced by one-third to as much as one-half of the cost from last year.

Still, the path to everyone with hepatitis in Cameroon receiving treatment is still a struggle. As it is now, only 1.5 percent of those in need of hepatitis C medication are actually receiving drugs.

The Cameroon Minister of Public Health hopes to network the Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences of Yaoundé with other facilities that are researching hepatitis in order to help end the hepatitis epidemic in Cameroon.

Amy Whitman

Photo: Flickr