Key pharmacist role in new hepatitis push

liver puzzle

Health Minister Greg Hunt has announced funding for Hepatitis Australia to improve screening and treatment uptake

As well as announcing the $1 million in funding for the organisation, Mr Hunt announced that Maviret (glecaprevir/pibrentasvir) will be listed on the PBS from August 1.

Maviret is a new once-daily, eight-week therapy for treatment naïve, non-cirrhotic adults with chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection across all major genotypes (GT1-6).  It is supported by clinical studies that showed a 98% viral cure rate after eight weeks of treatment in GT1-6 treatment naïve, non-cirrhotic patients.

“We will provide $1 million to Hepatitis Australia to continue education and awareness activities to improve hepatitis C testing and treatment uptake,” Mr Hunt said. 

“It is critically important to diagnose and treat hepatitis C early to avoid the risk of serious liver disease, including liver failure, cirrhosis and liver cancer.”

The announcement follows reports of an “alarming” drop in the number of people accessing PBS-funded cures for hepatitis C.

Hepatitis Australia CEO Helen Tyrrell said the decline in people accessing the cures had been evident since last year and the organisation is “pleased that our call for the government to support greater public awareness has been answered”.

“It is a tragedy that hundreds of thousands of Australians are missing out on life-saving therapies which can cure hepatitis C in a matter of weeks, with few side effects, when these cures are readily available with a prescription from GPs,” Ms Tyrrell said.

“The new investment will support the roll-out of a hepatitis C Test, Cure, Live campaign to encourage people with risk factors to be tested or to come forward, if they know they are living with the virus, rather than delay commencing treatment.

“People may be feeling well even if their liver is progressively being damaged. Early treatment supports people to live longer, healthier lives, free from the worry of hepatitis C,” she said.

It is estimated that around 60,000 Australians have been cured of hepatitis C since new generation anti-virals were added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2016, but more than 170,000 Australians are still living with the virus.

Fewer people accessed new cures in recent months, suggesting that many people remain unaware of the benefits of new cures.

Capital Chemist Group Business Manager and pharmacist, Andrew Topp, said that “Pharmacists play a vital role in the community and often have direct contact with people who may be unaware they have hepatitis C or may be diagnosed with hepatitis C but don’t realise that treatments are available”.

“Pharmacist conversations with at-risk groups, such as those who have a history of injecting drugs, can provide an important bridge that leads to the diagnosis and successful treatment of hepatitis C.

“By understanding the latest treatments available, pharmacists can encourage people living with and/or at risk of contracting hepatitis C to seek advice from GPs and specialists, as appropriate.

“In 30 years as a pharmacist, the recent advances in hepatitis C treatment count as some of the most amazing advances in treatment I have witnessed. This can be life-changing therapy for patients with hepatitis C and it is a privilege to be involved in the cure process.”

Meanwhile Kirsten O’Doherty, General Manager AbbVie Australia welcomed the PBS listing of Maviret and commended the Government on its commitment to ensuring Australians have access to the latest hepatitis C medicines.

“We have seen significant medical advancements in the development of hepatitis c medicines from the initial discovery of the virus in the 1980s, to the development and commercialisation of today’s direct-acting antivirals which provide an opportunity to eliminate the disease in Australia within a generation,” she said.

“The simplification of treatment options, coupled with better access to the latest direct acting antivirals and General Practitioner prescribing should mean more people can be successfully treated by any of Australia’s 30,000 GPs.”

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