The NHS says that it has now treated 200 children, aged between 3 to 18 years, with hepatitis C as part of an effort to meet the World Health Organisation's goats to eliminate the disease by 2030.
NHS England's Hepatitis C Elimination Programme was expanded to include treatment for children under the age of 12 in 2021. Patients received antiviral tables to combat the virus, and then receive follow-up blood tests to see if they still test positive for the virus. If the patient has received two negative tests after treatment, they are considered 'cured'. The treatment rate is 99%, according to the NHS data.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, medical director for NHS England, said: "This milestone of 200 children receiving potentially life-saving treatment is an extraordinary achievement for the NHS as we continue to make progress toward the goal to eliminate Hepatitis C in England way ahead of the 2030 target set by the World Health Organization.
"Giving children this treatment as early as possible can cure them of this devastating disease, stopping them from developing serious liver disease as well as hepatitis C-related liver cancer later in life."
'Hundreds More Children' to Be Invited for Treatment
The NHS said that hundreds more children are expected to receive treatments in the coming months and years. The service estimates "almost half the children treated for hepatitis C to date have been identified in the most deprived 20% on the country, helping drive the health service's ambitions to tackle health inequalities in children and young people". This was one of the goals of the NHS Long-Term Plan.
Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, it can cause liver cancer and other "serious and potentially life-threatening damage over many years", said the NHS. Children can get hepatitis from their mother at birth, or from receiving health care abroad, such as immunisations.
Previously, children under 12 years of age could not receive the antiviral treatments but following approval by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), the antiviral drugs can now be made available to children as young as 3 years old.
Rachel Halford, CEO of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: "We're delighted that so many children have had access to swift and effective treatment to cure hepatitis C. The sooner the virus is treated, the less impact it will have on a child's mental health and the less damage it will cause to the liver.
"Although it is rare that children are exposed to hepatitis C, they face the same risk as any adult if they come into contact with infected blood."
NHS said it has exceeded the World Health Organization's target of 10% by more than threefold, putting England in pole position to be among the first countries in the world to eliminate the virus as a public health concern.
Health Minister Maria Caufield said: "This new milestone shows how we are at the forefront of tackling serious diseases, with more and more children set to benefit from our targeted screening approach and rapid access to treatment.
"Together we are paving the way for the complete elimination of this life limiting disease and tackling health inequalities."
Following a 5-year contract worth almost £1 bn to buy antiviral drugs for thousands of patients, deaths from Hepatitis C – including liver disease and cancer – have fallen by 35%, according to NHS data.