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Australia set to wipe out hepatitis C this decade

Australia is on track to eliminate hepatitis C in the next decade, the federal government has declared.

On yesterday’s World Hepatitis Day, the Morrison government announced an investment of more than $45 million in five national strategies against blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections.

Hepatitis C is a virus that can lead to liver disease, including cirrhosis and cancer, but it is preventable and usually curable.

Australia was among the first countries in the world to subsidise new medications for people with chronic hepatitis C.

At the end of 2018, around 130,000 people in Australia were living with chronic hepatitis C and more than 226,000 Australians were living with chronic hepatitis B.

The federal government has invested more than $1 billion to fund new antiviral treatments for hepatitis C through the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS), with around 85,000 people receiving the new treatment by the end of last year.

Treatments for chronic hepatitis B, which can prevent or delay liver disease, are also available on the PBS.

An effective vaccine to prevent hepatitis B is available and free under the National Immunisation Program for babies, children, young adults, and refugees.

Hepatitis B and C are spread by blood-to-blood contact, and hepatitis B is also contracted by sexual contact.

Carrie Fowlie, chief executive officer of Hepatitis Australia, praised the government’s continuing response to viral hepatitis.

“We commend Australian governments for their commitment to the global elimination of hepatitis B and C by 2030 and, as Australia’s national hepatitis organisation, we are to help governments and communities to achieve that goal,” said Fowlie.

She said that while Australia had fallen behind its 2022 targets, the new funding commitments could bring the country back on track.

“We need to keep the hepatitis B and C conversations alive,” said Fowlie.

“This will challenge stigma and address gaps in our national response.”

More than half of the population living with chronic hepatitis B, and who would benefit from treatment, are not currently receiving it.

The government has encouraged people who need help, treatment, or support to reach out to their health professionals to access life-changing medications.

“For hepatitis B, we need to increase the proportion of people living with hepatitis B who have been diagnosed, and regular and timely access to care, and for hepatitis C, we need to expand access to testing and cures in primary care,” said Fowlie.

This year’s World Hepatitis Day theme of Let’s Talk Hep encourages people to start conversations about hepatitis and fight myths and stigma about the viruses.

Hepatitis testing and treatment are available via sexual health and liver clinics, and support and information is available from state and territory hepatitis organisations.

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