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VA Offers New Treatment for Veterans with Hepatitis C

WASHINGTON (Nov. 1, 2002) - Less than 10 days after a new treatment for hepatitis C was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) made it available to enrolled veterans.

"We take care of more patients with this debilitating liver disease than any other health system in the country - more than 70,000 a year," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Anthony J. Principi. "These veterans deserve the best, most responsive care we can offer, including the very latest, approved treatments."

The treatment approved by the FDA Oct. 16 is called "pegylated interferon alfa-2a." VA has made arrangements with the manufacturer to ship the new drug to VA facilities sooner than any other medical system.

"We are getting this drug in the shortest time possible to facilities that have the most need," said Secretary Principi.

Several advances in treating hepatitis C, particularly with the introduction of the "pegylated interferons," include drugs that act against the hepatitis C virus used alone or in combination with other drugs.

Through VA's national hepatitis C program, which has been in place about two years, veterans with hepatitis C receive the most appropriate medical care, including:

* Counseling for risk factor identification and disease prevention;

* Systematic screening and testing;

* Proactive patient and clinician education;

* Liver transplantation if clinically necessary; and

* Support services such as substance abuse and mental health care.

VA has screened more than 2.6 million veterans for hepatitis C risk factors since the system-wide policy was established in 1999. To better manage and improve patient care, VA created a national case registry of patients.

"We have worked hard to put in place the largest hepatitis C screening and testing program in the world, all to the benefit of the veterans we serve," said Dr. Robert H. Roswell, VA under secretary for
health. "VA's approach continues to be a model for how large systems can manage this debilitating disease."

For further information on hepatitis C see