To tackle hepatitis C, we need to close the justice gap

Croakey, Dec 22, 2015

Health Minister Sussan Ley’s announcement of PBS listing for new treatments for hepatitis C has been welcomed by Hepatitis NSW as “brilliant news”. Given the high rates of hepatitis C among people in prisons, it is significant that the Government has agreed to fund these medicines for prisoners.

However, tackling hepatitis C will also require public health interventions such as the introduction of needle and syringe programs into correctional centres, and concerted efforts to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons, according to Heather McCormack from Hepatitis NSW.

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Rising Death Toll from Viral Hepatitis in Australia

Hepatitis NSW, September 2015

On 14 September, the Kirby Institute released the HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia: Annual Surveillance Report 2015. And it made for particularly sobering reading. It is estimated that 690 people died from hepatitis C-related liver disease in 2014, which represents an increase of 146% from ten years earlier.

The number of people with hepatitis C-related severe fibrosis or cirrhosis has also more than doubled over the past decade, from 18,580 in 2004, to an estimated 44,730 in 2014.

And the number of hepatitis C-related deaths, and of people with severe fibrosis or cirrhosis, will only continue to rise unless and until the Commonwealth Government makes new treatments available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The Kirby Institute also estimated that 395 people lost their lives to hepatitis B-related liver disease last year.

While there was some positive news – finding that “[e]vidence is emerging that the immunisation programs for hepatitis B are starting to have a benefit, with declining rates of new infection, and most strikingly in the younger age groups that have had the highest level of vaccine coverage” – the hepatitis B epidemic presents unique challenges, including:

  • 44% of people living with chronic hepatitis B remain undiagnosed, and
  • Only 27% of people who have been diagnosed are having regular check-ups.

The data also confirmed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to be disproportionately affected by both hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

  • Full Kirby Institute Surveillance Report >>> Click here
  • Hepatitis NSW Media Release response >>> Click here