Year in Review: A cure for hepatitis C
Hazel Heal is a mother, a wife, a newly qualified lawyer, and no longer has hepatitis C. This is a message she is proud to share with everyone.
A routine blood test in the 80s turned Hazel’s life upside down: “I was diagnosed with hepatitis C when five months pregnant, told that there was no cure, and that I was likely to die within ten years”.
More than 20 years later, and on the verge of needing a liver transplant, Hazel learnt there was a treatment option that could potentially offer her a cure, but that it was unfunded in New Zealand and would cost her more than $250,000.
The huge burden of the cost, as well as the stigma she and others with hepatitis C faced, inspired her to share her story, setting up Hep C Action Aotearoa to support and advocate for others with the disease.
In February this year, PHARMAC started funding Maviret, a cure for those with chronic hepatitis C. There are an estimated 50,000 people with hepatitis C in New Zealand, many of them undiagnosed.
“Three tablets a day for up to 12 weeks is all it takes. People who think they could have been exposed to the hepatitis C infection should speak to their doctor about getting tested and, if they need it, getting the treatment that is potentially a cure for 99% of people.”
Hazel is ecstatic that PHARMAC is now funding Maviret: “Since completing my treatment, life is amazing. I have recently qualified as a lawyer and am working hard in my own time as an advocate with Hep C Action Aotearoa to continue to spread the word about Maviret.
“I want all those living with it to feel the way I do! I want everyone to be able to say that they are hepatitis C free!”
My name’s Hazel Heal, I’m 55 years old. I knew I’d had Hep C for many years. I was pregnant and I was very worried about my unborn daughter and we didn’t know what it meant and at that time it was considered a bit of a death sentence. It was certainly suggested to me in the hospital when I had my daughter that we wouldn’t last long. I hoped that the cures would show up in time and I lived my life. I tried the old treatments and they make you very sick but they didn’t cure me.
I got the bad news that I was out of time late 2015 and just as I was about to sit my first year law exams. I learned at that time that there were wonderful new drugs, the direct acting antivirals, were available but they weren’t available in New Zealand at that time and I had to seek them off shore. I’ve got to say for myself being cured with direct acting antivirals it was just a complete before and after, my life before, my life after is completely different.
What people don’t realise is that the price that was being asked for these medications would have bankrupted our whole health system for five years if we’d accepted it back in 2015 at the level it was at. So I actually see Pharmac as a kind of superhero that protects us from some of these negotiations because the asking price, it’s deadly. The asking price was the money or your life. And Pharmac pretty much said, well hang on a minute, let’s talk about this. And no that won’t work, no that won’t work, no, Ok, now you’re talking. And that’s where we got to.
It’s so exciting for me, as a Hep C advocate, that Pharmac is now funding Maviret, because it’s such a powerful drug, it’s going to save so much health dollars for all the other things that we Hepsters get wrong with us, we all die of strokes and heart disease and all sorts of other things that don’t even get attributed in the end to Hep C. For New Zealand to have Maviret now, it really is a breakthrough, it’s a once in a generation opportunity. It’s the first time in the world we’ve been able to cure a virus. And it’s the first time since penicillin that one of these top five infectious diseases could be wiped out.
I feel like I’ve regained my life. I’ve recently finished my law degree, been admitted to the bar. I’ve got heaps of energy and I’ve been getting really involved in Hep C awareness all over the world and I’ve been helping launch this global symbol for Hep C. We know that 25,000 people in New Zealand have got it with absolutely no clue and maybe another 25,000 might have some idea. And I’m really keen to find all those missing people in New Zealand. People need to go and have that test.
Last updated: 12 December 2019