Hep Can’t What?

In a rare alignment, the Australian 2021 World Hepatitis Day campaign is adopting the message of the global campaign. This year, both global and national campaigns are telling you: hepatitis can’t wait.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a common outcome in one aspect of healthcare – people with minor or chronic illnesses putting off seeing their healthcare providers. Unfortunately, for some conditions, there can be dire consequences if you wait. Hepatitis is one of those.

Worldwide, someone dies from hepatitis-related illness every 30 seconds. In Australia, hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer and liver cancer is the fastest growing cause of cancer deaths.

The expert advice is for all people with chronic hepatitis B to receive regular monitoring and timely treatment as needed.  We are nowhere near…

One in three people in Australia with chronic hepatitis B don’t know that they have it.

More worrying is the fact that only one in five of these people are in medical care. The expert advice is for all people with chronic hepatitis B to receive regular monitoring and timely treatment as needed.  We are nowhere near the conservative national target to have half of people with chronic hepatitis B to be in medical care by end of next year.

Not everyone with chronic hepatitis B needs to be on treatment, but experts estimate that about a quarter will need to be on antiviral therapy to minimize adverse outcomes. Left unmanaged and untreated, hepatitis B can lead to liver failure or liver cancer. 2018 saw more than 400 hepatitis B related deaths in Australia.

With hepatitis C, Despite there being a highly effective cure there are still some 130,000 people with HCV – the leading cause for liver transplants in Australia.

One in five of Australians with chronic hepatitis C don’t know they have it. Some know their diagnoses but are not aware that today a simple course of tablets for eight or twelve weeks could rid them of the virus damaging their liver.

Australia is one of the countries on track to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030 – a World Health Organisation target but the number of people starting hepatitis C treatment has been falling after the initial surge in 2016.

Furthermore, the Doherty Institute WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis reported a 19% drop in hepatitis testing in 2020, compared to the same time in 2019. This drop in diagnosis and management will have flow-on effects on progress towards achieving the WHO target.

In South Australia, over 8,000 people with chronic hepatitis C and 14,000 with chronic hepatitis B. While treatment uptake for hepatitis C has been above national average in SA, more than half of South Australians with hepatitis C are still unnecessarily living with a disease that can be cured with little side effects.

South Australia’s progress in hepatitis B is below national average. Only 16% of people with chronic hepatitis B in SA receive medical care and only 5% are on treatment – a long way off from the national targets of 50% and 20% respectively.

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are infectious diseases with possible serious consequences for those infected, but they are treatable and preventable. With an effective vaccine for hepatitis B and a cure for hepatitis C, both viruses can be eliminated.

The challenge is to find those who are not diagnosed, or not in medical care and offer appropriate pathways for them to manage or be cured of their infection.

Hepatitis can’t wait.

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