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More Americans and Chinese Traveling to India for Hepatitis C Treatment

As reported by CNN this week, increasing numbers of Americans are traveling halfway across the world to India to buy the revolutionary Hepatitis C medicine Sofosbuvir, as well as other prescription drugs.

Medical Tourism

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). HCV primarily affects the liver, and although early-stage symptoms tend to be mild or even nonexistent, HCV can infect the liver for years and eventually lead to liver disease and/or cirrhosis (the latter in turn leading to liver failure or cancer). Globally, more than 130 million people are estimated to be infected with HCV.

Sofosbuvir

In late-2013, United States (U.S.) pharmaceutical firm Giliad Sciences released the drug Sofosbuvir (sold under the brand names “Sovaldi” and “Harvoni”), which has been proven to be effectively a cure for Hepatitis C. However, in the U.S. the drug is expensive, costing around USD $84,000 for a doctor-recommended 12-week course. In contrast, a 12-week course of generic Sofosbuvir can be purchased for just USD $500 in India.

Chinese Medical Tourism

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported that increasing numbers of Chinese have also been travelling to India to purchase Sofosbuvir. In China, Sofosbuvir is not even available for sale, as it is still in the testing phase and has not been approved by the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA). Consequently, domestic treatment in China is still limited to older therapies such as injections of interferon, which are not only less effective but also cause harsh side effects such as headaches and hair loss.

SFDA data shows that Hepatitis C drugs from Gilead Sciences, as well as Bristol-Meyers Squibb and AbbVie, are all in trials in China, and could be available for sale there in the near future. In the meantime, a number of Beijing- and Shanghai-based companies are offering medical tourism packages to India and Bangladesh for as little as RMB 30,000-40,000 (~ USD $4500-6000). These packages include not only medication, but also flights, hotels and consultation with local doctors.

With an estimated 10 million Chinese infected with hepatitis C, and available medications shown to cure more than 90% of patients within a few months, overseas medical tourism for this disease could potentially be worth more than USD $50 billion according to a recent report by Founder Securities.

One Response to “More Americans and Chinese Traveling to India for Hepatitis C Treatment”

  1. June 6, 2016 at 3:16 pm #

    World Health Organization GUIDELINES FOR THE SCREENING, CARE AND TREATMENT OF PERSONS WITH CHRONIC HEPATITIS C INFECTION (updated April 2016).

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