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Hepatitis C patients stage sit-in to demand access to new treatment

Protest at Madrid hospital aims to shame the government into releasing more funds

Members of a hepatitis C support group moments before their Madrid sit-in.
Members of a hepatitis C support group moments before their Madrid sit-in.

The government is authorizing expensive new drugs to treat the worst cases of hepatitis C, but these are being prescribed sparingly by doctors in the public health service.

And when they do, the medication takes weeks to reach the patient.

As a result, desperate sufferers have decided to take action with a sit-in at a Madrid hospital in the hope they can pressure authorities into being more generous with the treatment.

Protesters also said they will sue former health minister Ana Mato for taking nine months to negotiate the price of Sovaldi

We will not tolerate a single death more,” said Damián Caballero, vice-president of the support group Plataforma de Afectados de Hepatitis C, standing outside 12 de Octubre hospital.

Caballero, who has a 27-year-old daughter with the disease, and other members of the association began their protest on Thursday morning.

This group wants patients whose disease has progressed into cirrhosis to have access to the innovative treatment.

There are around 800,000 people living with hepatitis C in Spain, of whom 35,000 have developed cirrhosis, according to this association.

Patients are also questioning the government’s spending priorities.

In a country where there’s enough money to bail out the banks and the highways, and to pay Florentino Pérez damages for closing down the Castor Project, where is the money for the hepatitis C patients?” asked Caballero, in reference to an offshore natural gas deposit project that was halted due to the earthquakes it allegedly triggered.

Speaking in front of reporters, health personnel and a few familiar faces from politics, including the leftist Gaspar Llamazares, Caballero asked the government to stop playing with people’s lives.

The treatment  has a cure rate of up to 95 percent, but it costs €25,000

The treatment is there, it’s in the display window, but they won’t let us take it over money issues,” he said.

The treatment, a combination of drugs including sofosbuvir (which is marketed as Sovaldi in Spain), has a cure rate of up to 95 percent, but it costs €25,000. The central government has earmarked enough money for around 4,900 treatments.

The protesters also said they will sue former health minister Ana Mato for taking nine months to negotiate the price of Sovaldi with the pharmaceutical Gilead before introducing it into the public health system.

We’re going to take her to the High Court and she will have to answer for 12 deaths a day from hepatitis C. They are committing murder,” said other association members, who warned that patients across Spain are ready to follow their lead and go on hunger strikes if necessary.