NPR Marketplace Interview: Cutting prison hepatitis C rates: costly, but worth it?
Dr. Jag Chhatwal, assistant professor of radiology at Harvard Medical School, has studied the economics of treating hepatitis C in prisons and said that while the drugs are expensive, liver transplants and treatment for patients with hepatitis C in its later stages are also costly.
He said treating the disease in prison is worth it in the long run because cutting the number of infected people in prison has a dramatic impact on the number of people living with the disease society wide. That’s because the average length of time anyone spends in prison is three years, but it can take 20 or even 30 years before the more damaging consequences of hepatitis C manifest. By that point, the majority of those who had been in prison have been released and would require treatment in the community.
Chhatwal said his findings show that if all prisons tested all prisoners and treated all those who needed it, they would diagnose between 41,900 and 122,700 new cases of the disease in prison over 30 years. To do this, he said, would require prisons on average to ramp up spending by an extra 12 percent. That could be a hard sell, but Chhatwal said “it’s a question of spending now versus later.”
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