The government intervenes to keep hepatitis C elimination on track

There has been a decline in the number of people accessing hepatitis C treatment. Picture: Tribune
There has been a decline in the number of people accessing hepatitis C treatment. Picture: Tribune

NSW Health is encouraging people across the state living with hepatitis C to take advantage of new easy-to-take and highly effective medications, which can cure the illness.

The medication program is part of the NSW Ministry of Health’s $4.5 million investment in 2018-19 to strengthen hepatitis C testing and treatment.

Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in Australia.

It comes as this month marked Hepatitis Awareness Week (July 23-28).

This year, Hepatitis Awareness Week is focusing on increasing treatment efforts for people who inject drugs.

All people who currently inject drugs or have previously injected drugs should ask their doctor for a hepatitis C test and for hepatitis C treatment if they do have the infection.

Chief health officer Kerry Chant said available medications have a cure rate of 95 per cent.

“People can be cured in eight to 12 weeks with all-oral tablets – no injections, minimal side-effects and improved energy levels,” Dr Chant said. 

“It is important that people see their GP to be treated for their hepatitis C as this will improve their own health as well as prevent the transmission of the infection to others.”

“We are encouraged that we are making progress towards reaching our goal of eliminating hepatitis C across the state by 2028 with more than a quarter of people in NSW living with hepatitis C seeking treatment and a cure,” Dr Chant said. 

“More than 21,000 people in NSW were treated for hepatitis C over a 21 month period between March 2016 and December last year.

“However, there are still an estimated 60,000 people remaining in NSW to come forward for treatment.       

“To achieve hepatitis C elimination, increased efforts are needed across NSW to treat all people living with the infection.”

A drop in the number of Australians accessing government-funded cures for hepatitis C prompted the push to announce a million-dollar investment in community awareness campaigns.

Without timely treatment, people with hepatitis C are at increased risk of developing serious liver disease, including liver cirrhosis (severe scarring), liver failure and liver cancer, which is now the fastest increasing cancer in Australia.

From August 1, the government will also subsidise another medicine to cure hepatitis C called Maviret, a short eight-week treatment suitable for adults with any hepatitis C genotype, who haven’t previously been treated and haven’t developed liver cirrhosis.

Hepatitis Australia chief executive Helen Tyrell says the decline in people accessing the cures has been evident since last year.

“It is a tragedy that hundreds of thousands of Australians are missing out on life-saving therapies, which can cure hepatitis C in a matter of weeks, with few side effects, when these cures are readily available with a prescription from a GP,” she said.

“The new investment will support the roll-out of a hepatitis C Test, Cure, Live campaign to encourage people with risk factors to be tested or to come forward, if they know they are living with the virus, rather than delay commencing treatment.

“People may be feeling well even if their liver is progressively being damaged. Early treatment supports people to live longer, healthier lives, free from the worry of hepatitis C.”