Supporting a national approach to eliminating hepatitis C

22 Aug 2018

Commonly undetected and untreated, hepatitis C disproportionately impacts our most marginalised communities. We’re supporting experts across the country to achieve their aim of eradicating hepatitis C by 2030.

Diseases or illnesses perceived as being embarrassing, contagious or self-inflicted are perhaps the most difficult to address in our society because they tend to remain hidden in the shadows.

The shame, fear and stigma attached to them make it difficult for those impacted to seek information or medical treatment. Sadly, some medical practitioners are often reluctant to raise the topic with their patients, further limiting access to vital diagnostics and follow up care. The blood born virus Hepatitis C (HCV), is a prime example of such a stigmatised health condition.

HCV is a slow acting virus that causes inflammation in the liver, and if left untreated can cause cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. It affects approximately 200,000 people in Australia (approximately 71 million globally), and is disproportionately represented in some of our most marginalised populations including injecting drug users and prisoners. As the health impacts of HCV emerge, it can contribute greatly to the cycle of disadvantage though ill health and disability.

In March 2016, the Federal Government put Australia at the international forefront of efforts to eliminate HCV by listing new direct acting anti-viral drugs on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for an initial five-year period at a cost of more than $1 billion. These drugs represent a cure for most individuals living with HCV.  The initial response to the listing was positive with approximately 3,000 people commencing treatment per month in the first 15 months. However, since mid-2017 treatment rates have fallen to as low as 1,200 per month which, if continued, will result in the Australian government falling short in its attempt to eliminate HCV by 2030.

What has become apparent is that access to these new drugs is only one piece of the puzzle when it comes to eliminating HCV in Australia. For this reason, we are supporting The Burnet Institute to oversee a coordinated national response with the aim of increasing HCV awareness, testing and treatment uptake in the community.

This new initiative, Eliminate Hepatitis C Australia, brings together all the key groups from every Australian State and Territory. It will drive a systematic, national approach that ensures resources are directed to areas of need and enable the sharing of successful strategies to ensure the best interventions are scaled and sustained. This includes health promotion and awareness targeting key at-risk groups to ensure people understand the new antiviral treatments are safe and effective with minimal side effects; strengthening capacity and education in general practice; action research to improve testing and treatment uptake in the community; and national monitoring and surveillance.

We are extremely proud to be associated with this national effort to eliminate HCV and to improve the health of some of our most disadvantaged Australians.

Brian Graetz – General Manager, Health