The new antivirals mean Australia is on track to eradicate hepatitis C, says one expert
Associate Professor Simone Strasser, gastroenterologist at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, says the country could eradicate hepatitis C in the next 10–15 years.
When the PBS listing of these drugs was announced by then Health Minister Sussan Ley, she said this was her objective.
“Australia is one of the first countries in the world to publicly subsidise these cures for every one of our quarter-of-a-million Hep C suffers, no matter what their condition or how they contracted it,” Ms Ley said at the time.
“This is a watershed moment in Australian history and we are hoping to eliminate one the great disease challenges facing Australia in the 21st century.”
Now, writing in the latest edition of Australian Prescriber, Professor Strasser says that the new oral antiviral treatments for hepatitis C are so effective and well tolerated that 95% of patients will be cured with a short course of treatment.
The PBS listing and wide prescriber base of these antivirals mean new cases of hepatitis will become rare. Consequently liver disease, liver failure, liver cancer and liver transplantation will decrease.
However this outcome can only be achieved if all people with chronic hepatitis C are diagnosed, assessed, treated and followed up appropriately, says Professor Strasser. Strict regime adherence is vital in order to effect a cure, he says.
“It is essential that all medical practitioners, particularly GPs, have the skills to diagnose patients with hepatitis C and either manage them with specialist support if needed, or refer them for specialist care.”
It is estimated that 82% of the 227,000 people living with hepatitis C in Australia have been diagnosed. However, many of them have either not been informed of their diagnosis or are not aware of the implications of chronic viral hepatitis.
Before 2016, less than one in four Australians with chronic hepatitis C had been treated and approximately one in five was undiagnosed. Because hepatitis C is a major cause of chronic liver disease, cirrhosis and liver cancer, it is essential that all people with chronic infection are identified so that treatment can be provided, he says.
“Anyone at risk of contracting a blood-borne infection should be tested for hepatitis C, as should anyone with evidence of chronic liver disease or abnormal liver enzymes,” says Professor Strasser.
“Approximately 80% of those infected are injecting drug users, and so should be a major focus for testing. Other important groups include migrants from high-prevalence countries or regions such as Egypt, Pakistan, Mediterranean and eastern European countries, Africa and Asia.”
Financial concerns for pharmacies supplying the expensive new-generation antivirals are ongoing.