Children in England are set to be the first in the world to be offered a cure for hepatitis C, as part of NHS plans to eradicate the disease entirely.
More than 100 children have been identified for treatment, with hundreds more set to benefit in the coming months and years. Those aged 3 to 18 years will be given the lifesaving antiviral tablets to treat and cure the condition.
This is the latest action from the NHS to find and treat people with hepatitis C, as part of NHS Long Term Plan ambitions to be the first in the world to eliminate the condition ahead of the 2030 World Health Organization commitment.
The NHS has already cured more than 50,000 adults from the virus since 2015, with a further 80,000 receiving treatment over the next five years, as the health service aims to beat the World Health Organization target of eliminating the disease by 2030.
Patients are treated with five antiviral tablets, with two follow-up blood tests – one at the end of their treatment and another 24 weeks later and if both are negative it means the child has been cured of hepatitis.
Families have welcomed the latest move with one mum saying she is ‘over the moon’ that her five year old can now be treated and cured.
Professor Stephen Powis, Medical Director for NHS England said:
Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver and, if left untreated, can cause liver cancer and other serious and potentially life-threatening damage over many years.
Children can get hepatitis from their mother at the time of birth or from receiving healthcare abroad, such as immunisations.
Since the launch of the service, the national treatment team have held monthly meetings to discuss the care and treatment of children in England and can prescribe treatment at local centres within four weeks.
Previously, children under 12 years of age could not receive the treatment but following approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the antiviral drugs can now be made available to children as young as three years old.
One mum Ashleigh Thomson said she was ‘over the moon’ after being told that her five-year-old son James* will be getting the treatment for children. Ashleigh unknowingly contracted the virus through a tattoo or piercing on but wasn’t diagnosed until she began experiencing symptoms when she was pregnant with her son James in 2014.
Ashleigh, from Milton Keynes, spoke of the relief she felt after discovering that her young son would be eligible for the new treatment:
The ‘fantastic’ new service will see children and young people living anywhere in England will have virtual access to care by a team of world-leading clinicians, led by Professor Deirdre Kelly at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, while receiving treatment at their local centre, close to their homes after the service launched this Spring.
Professor Deirdre Kelly, professor of paediatric hepatology at the University of Birmingham and consultant paediatric hepatologist for Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Hospital NHS Foundation Trust said:
Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust said:
Dr Helen Harris, senior scientist at Public Health England, said: