Portugal’s latest health ‘disgrace’ centres on a 51-year-old Hepatitis C patient who died last week after being denied access to a “life-saving drug” that the manufacturers had reportedly pledged to supply her free of charge.
Maria Manuela Ferreira had been battling the disease for over 20 years. She died last Friday at Lisbon’s Santa Maria Hospital having waited almost a year for the ‘sofosbuvir’ treatment, said to have a 90% success rate.
The case has generated a torrent of criticism, particularly since it was reported that Gilead, the American company that makes ‘sofosbuvir’, had heard of Ferreira’s plight and had requested permission to give her the drug at no cost.
The woman’s son told newspapers that hospital bosses had inexplicably kept the request on hold for months while the health ministry battled Gilead over what it termed its “monopolistic prices”.
The Ministry of Health has guaranteed that it is now investigating why the drug was not immediately supplied to Maria Ferreira.
Meantime, it has come to an agreement with Gilead to provide the drug to 100 patients at risk in Portugal.
But the moves have not been enough to satisfy patients who have no idea whether they are on the “at risk” category.
The sufferers have banded together to get an injunction to force the health ministry into supplying sofosbuvir.
“You have to treat me. I don’t want to die!”
At a hearing held yesterday (February 4) to discuss the controversy, patients showed their concern that hospitals were not doing enough to help them.
Hepatitis C sufferer José Carlos Saldanha, listening to health minister Paulo Macedo reiterate that the government would not submit itself to the “monopolistic prices” (thought to top €42,000 per course of treatment) despite the death of Maria Ferreira, cried out: “Don’t let me die. I want to live!”
Saldanha was asked to leave the room, but was able to convince security staff to let him stay until the end.
“I couldn’t help myself,” he said following the hearing.
“The minister has to do something to help us. We have to be treated. The disease is silent, but we will not be.”
According to national medicine authority Infarmed, there are currently 13,500 Hepatitis C patients in Portugal.