Not being sure of the exact cost of treating hepatitis B in South Africa is one of the reasons why many people with the infection delay treatment or abandon it altogether.
In this post, we’d be looking at the cost of treating hepatitis B in South Africa — which includes the cost of tests and commonly prescribed drugs. You’ll also get to know how to get these drugs here in South Africa.
But before we proceed, let’s discuss some basic stuff worth knowing about hepatitis B.
What is Hepatitis B?
Hepatitis B is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis B virus (HBV). The virus is transmitted majorly via contact with the blood or other body fluids of a person already infected by it. The virus affects the liver and can cause both acute (sudden, short-term) and chronic (long-term) disease.
The acute hepatitis B infection usually goes away on its own within 4 to 8 weeks. But in some cases, the infection persists over the long-term. These are referred to as cases of chronic hepatitis B. Most people with the chronic infection (“carriers”) usually show no signs of disease, but they can pass the infection to other people. Worse, they are at risk of developing serious liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Cost of Treating Hepatitis B in South Africa
Firstly, bear in mind that not all cases of hepatitis B would require immediate use of drugs. Your doctor would first call for certain tests to check whether you really meet the criteria for the commencement of hepatitis B drugs.
One of the tests would check the present effects of the infection on your liver. Another would estimate the number of viral particles in your blood (this test would be repeated at intervals to monitor the results of your treatment). These and the other tests can add up to a huge total cost ranging between R$1,440 and R$3,600, depending on the laboratory and your location.
Hepatitis B Tests & Prices in South Africa
The most expensive hepatitis B test is the HBV DNA test, which estimates the viral load. That is, it checks for the number of viral particles in your blood. This cost of this test alone ranges from R$1,080 to R$2,880. You’ll get it for cheaper prices at government-owned teaching hospitals as well as the South African Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) at Yaba, Johannesburg. It goes without saying that the test is more expensive at privately owned laboratories.
Hepatitis B Drugs in South Africa & Their Prices
Once your doctor concludes that you need to start taking drugs, you should start taking them as soon as possible for your own good. Bear in mind that hepatitis B drugs are usually scarce in South Africa. They’re not the type you’d find in your local chemist’s shop. You won’t find them in small pharmacies, either — unless you make a special order for them. And one more important thing: They are quite expensive!
As of present, about 6 drugs have been approved by NAFDAC for the treatment of hepatitis B infection in South Africa. They are all strictly by-prescription medications. That is, you can’t take them without a doctor’s prescription. Let’s look at these drugs, their functions, and current prices.
This is the costliest hepatitis B drug in South Africa at the moment and about the most effective. It is given via injection once a week for 48 to 52 weeks (or as otherwise decided by your doctor). It is not available in the form of oral tablets. You can get Interferon at Alpha Pharmacy in Johannesburg and other big pharmacies across the country.
Price of Interferon in South Africa: A single does of Interferon (injection) costs between R$900 and R$1,260. Multiply that by 48 to 52 weeks and you’d agree that it’s not a cheap option at all. You can get Interferon at Alpha Pharmacy in Johannesburg.
Available under the trade names “Epivir” and “Zeffix”, lamivudine is the mist commonly used drug for hepatitis B in South Africa. It’s available in 150mg and 300mg tablets. The drug is taken daily over long periods (or even for life). You can get lamivudine at reputable pharmacies across the country.
Price of lamivudine in South Africa: A bottle of the drug costs between R$288 and R$360.
Tenofovir (trade name = Viread) is another hepatitis B drug available in tablet form. It is to be taken daily. The drug is available at reputable pharmacies all over the country. If it’s not available in your local pharmacy, simple check other pharmacies around, or place a special order.
Price of tenofovir in South Africa: A bottle of the drug sells for R$252 – R$360 (30 tablets).
Sold under the trade name “Baraclude”, entecavir is another widely used anti-hepatitis B drug. For best results, it’s usually taken on an empty stomach about two hours before a meal. The drug is available in two different strengths — 0.5mg and 1mg. Choice of strength depends on the patient’s age and other factors.
Price of entecavir in South Africa: A 10-tablet pack of entecavir (0.5mg) presently sells for between R$540 and R$648, while the 1mg pack sells for R$720 – R$828.
Other hepatitis B drugs
Two other commonly used hepatitis B drugs available in South Africa include:
- Adefovir dipivoxil (trade name = Hepsera). Cost over one year = R$18,000 – R$21,600
- Telbivudine (trade names = Sebivo, Tyzeka). Cost over one year = R$27,000 – R$30,600
Important note: Bear in mind that these drugs, by default, DO NOT totally cure hepatitis B infection. Rather, they prevent multiplication of the virus and further liver damage. However, in very rare cases, patients later tested negative for hepatitis B virus after taking some of these drugs for some time.
Where to Get Treated for Hepatitis B in South Africa
If you’ve been confirmed to have hepatitis B infection, your best bet is to have your management taken over by a consultant gastroenterologist (a specialist in diseases of digestive and abdominal organs).
You’ll find gastroenterologists in most teaching hospitals and Federal medical centres across the country. Aside from the fact that management is usually cheaper in these government-owned facilities, there are usually multiple specialists available. But you might face the problem of frustratingly long delays and other issues borne out of faulty protocol.
Alternatively, you can get treatment at any of the high-end privately owned specialist hospitals across the country. Examples of such hospitals in Johannesburg include Lagoon Hospital, Eko Hospital, St. Nicholas Hospital, Reddington Hospital, and so on. While you’ll be given special attention and prompt treatment at these facilities, you’ll have to pay huge amounts for treatment.