By Kimberly Curth | March 27, 2019 at 4:08 PM CDT – Updated March 27 at 7:19 PM

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – It’s a plan that health officials believe could eradicate a deadly virus. Thousands are in need of a life-saving drug in Louisiana, and the state said it has found a way to expand access to that cure.

CrescentCare Chief Medical Officer Dr. Nicholas Van Sickels said he and other health care providers in the state will soon have the tools they need to cure and eradicate hepatitis C in Louisiana.

“We have a drug that will treat all the strains of hepatitis C that we can get all the patients that have been waiting for treatment, and then do more advance testing and get more people in who need to be treated and treat them right away and cure them in 12 weeks,” Van Sickels said.

He said that is possible because the state health department is partnering with a pharmaceutical company to create a hepatitis C drug subscription model. Under the partnership, the state will pay a fee, then have five years of unrestricted access to a drug that has an overall cure rate of 98 percent for the six main strains of the virus.

“This is a model that was used in Australia but has never been used in the United States,” said Louisiana Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rebekah Gee. “We have around 90,000 people in Louisiana who have this illness. This is the leading killer of our time that’s an infectious disease. So, more people die of hepatitis C than all other infectious diseases combined. So, that’s why we care so much.”

The state plans to treat its Medicaid patients and prisoners with the hope that the virus will one day be eliminated in Louisiana.

“We want to eliminate this disease, and you can’t have a reservoir of about 100,000 people go in and out of jail every year and cycle through and 95 percent of people get out and we can’t make meaningful progress,” Gee said. “It’s the highest-risk populations. It’s the one most impacted, and we’re not going to be able to eliminate this disease if we don’t deal with people who are in the jails.”

At CrescentCare, a community health center in New Orleans, Van Sickels said they have at least 100 Medicaid patients already waiting for hepatitis C treatment. But he said they have not been able to access the life-saving drug yet because it is so expensive.

“The combination regimen was upwards of $80,000 to $90,000 for a treatment regimen for an individual. They’ve come down somewhat with some competition in the market, but they’re still on order of $20,000 to $40,000 for just the treatment course for one person, so it’s a lot of money,” Van Sickels said.

But, with the new subscription model, he said those patients and many others will now have a second chance at life.

The state said Medicaid and incarcerated patients will have access to the hepatitis C drug starting July 1. Louisiana plans to treat more than 10,000 people by the end of 2020.

Copyright 2019 WVUE. All rights reserved.

SOURCE: Fox8 News