Australia is on target to eliminate hepatitis C within 10 years due to the rapid uptake of a curative antiviral treatment program since its listing on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme (PBS) a year ago.
A Kirby Institute report released on Tuesday supports predictions made by doctors last year that the infectious disease would be eliminated as a major public health threat by 2026.
The report shows more than 30,000 patients out of the 230,000 Australians living with chronic hep C were treated with the direct-acting antiviral (DAA) drugs in 2016.
Professor Greg Dore, head of the Kirby Institute’s Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program, says it’s been a “great start” which has given Australia a unique opportunity to become the first country to eliminate a major infectious disease through treatment intervention.
“Providing Australians living with hep C ongoing access to effective, well-tolerated medications will help curb transmission of the virus, reduce rates of liver disease, and eliminate hep C as a major public health issue within a decade,” Prof Dore said.
The report also highlights an “encouraging” increase in the proportion of patients being treated by general practitioners.
“As we move forward treatment really needs to be provided where the people are, in rural areas and in community settings, because the liver clinics already have their hands very full,” said the CEO of Hepatitis NSW Stuart Loveday.
The new treatment is administered as a course of pills that is consumed for three months and has a 90 per cent cure rate.
If left untreated hep C can damage the liver, causing liver scarring that can lead to liver failure or cancer.
Currently 20 per cent of Australians living with the disease remain undiagnosed.
Mr Loveday says the report is pleasing but more work needs to be done to eliminate hep C.
This includes increasing treatment for marginalised people, including those who are incarcerated, indigenous Australians, and people who inject drugs.
The report’s release coincided with the availability of the latest hep C treatment ZEPATIER on the PBS.
For more information on the hep C PBS listed drugs people can ring the Hep C Info Line on 1800 437 222.