Young children in England will be offered a cure for hepatitis C for the first time, as part of a new nationwide NHS service.
More than 100 children who have the serious virus have already been identified for treatment.
In what the NHS describes as a world-first, children under 12 will be able to access lifesaving antiviral tablets to treat hepatitis C through a national programme, which will be available close to where they live.
Hepatitis C is an aggressive virus which can infect the liver and, if left untreated, lead to liver cancer as well as other life-threatening conditions.
While adults and some children between aged 12 and 18 have been able to access the treatment through adult care, this is the first time it will be offered as child care, having been approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA).
Professor Stephen Powis, medical director at NHS England, said: “It is not very often we get the opportunity to completely eradicate a disease, but this world-first treatment for children will help the NHS achieve its goal to eliminate hepatitis C in England way ahead of the 2030 target set by the World Health Organisation.”
Patients aged anywhere between three and 18 years old will be given five antiviral tablets which will be followed up by two blood tests which, if both come back negative, show that condition has been fully cured.
More than 50,000 adults have been cured of the virus on the NHS since 2015, with a further 80,000 adults expected to benefit over the next five years, and 100 children have been identified so far to receive the treatment.
Prof Kelly, professor of paediatric hepatology and a consultant paediatric hepatologist, said: “For the first time anywhere in the world, children and young people with hepatitis C will receive care as part of a national programme, delivered close to their homes.
“They will still be treated locally and will benefit from specialist advice given by world-leading experts.
“This new service will ensure equitable and inclusive care to all children who need it, wherever they live in England.”
Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “These treatments are effective, with few side-effects, and are taken as pills.
“This is a massive improvement on old treatments, which had major side-effects and could often fail to clear the virus.
“It is fantastic that this network will mean children can access these treatments easily, close to their home, with their care discussed and overseen by the leading experts in the country.”