Australia is on track to eliminate hepatitis C in 10 years if record numbers of people living with the virus continue to seek and receive breakthrough antiviral treatment, according to a new analysis released on World Hepatitis Day.
Data from the Kirby Institute at UNSW Australia reveals that since new generation hepatitis C cures were made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes five months ago, 22,470 Australians have already commenced treatment – a massive increase on the 2,000-3,000 people with hepatitis C treated annually prior to the listing.
Professor Greg Dore from the Kirby Institute says, “Australia is leading the world in the treatment of hepatitis C, with the most rapid uptake of new treatments seen anywhere in the world, thanks to the unique approach Australia has taken in making these medicines available without restriction.
“This represents a huge leap forward in public health. To put this into perspective, we are on track to cure more people with hepatitis C this year than in the past 20 years of interferon-therapy,” he says.
Hepatitis Australia CEO, Helen Tyrrell, says that the wave of people who have been treated is “frankly phenomenal” but that Australia must keep up the momentum in order to make the elimination of hepatitis C a reality within a decade in Australia.
“Governments, along with the health and community sector, should be applauded for the record number of people with hepatitis C coming forward for treatment so far, but of course these efforts must be sustained over many years to reach everyone who would benefit,” Tyrrell says.
“The message for the 230,000 Australians living with hepatitis C is: Ask your doctor about new hepatitis C cures. Don’t miss out. You can be cured in as little as 12 weeks and with far fewer side-effects than previous treatments.”
The Department of Health estimated that 62,000 people would be treated with the new antivirals in five years. However if high treatment rates continue, experts believe this goal could be reached by the end of 2017.
There is no limit on the number of patients that can be treated.
“This is a huge achievement and testament to the critical role of GPs who can prescribe hepatitis C medicines for the first time – and the vision of the Australian Government in making these therapies available without restriction,” Tyrrell says.
“The great news for the public purse is that the amount of money paid for these medicines is capped, so the more people treated over the next five years the better.”
Hepatitis Australia is also using World Hepatitis Day to urge governments to make similar strides in combatting hepatitis B. It is estimated nearly half of the more than 213,000 people living with the virus remain undiagnosed and only around 5% are currently receiving treatment.
“It’s tragic that so few people living with hepatitis B are being appropriately managed and treated, as it puts them at heightened risk of liver cancer,” says Tyrrell.
The cost of Hepatitis C drugs and their effect on community pharmacy’s business model have been highlighted repeatedly since their PBS listing, with an AJP survey suggesting that up to 30% of pharmacies might not fill the scripts for economic reasons.