Deaths from hepatitis C have dropped by a fifth, highlighting the importance of new treatments and their affordability
New Kirby Institute data presented at the Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference in Adelaide shows there has been a 20% decline in hepatitis C deaths which directly relate to treatment since 2016.
The decline, based on NSW data from more than 100,000 people with a hepatitis C diagnosis, is the first large-scale evidence of the impact of new hepatitis C treatments on liver-related mortality in Australia.
In the decade before new treatments were available, there had been a three-fold increase in the number of people with hepatitis C dying from liver failure and liver cancer.
“This decline reflects the high uptake of direct-acting antiviral therapies among people with hepatitis C, particularly those with more advanced liver disease,” said Professor Greg Dore, head of the Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program at the Kirby Institute, based at UNSW Sydney.
“Since 2016, around 60,000 Australians have been treated with these highly curative therapies, and now for the first time, we are seeing fewer people dying of hepatitis C related causes.”
Between their introduction in 2014 and their PBS listing in March 2016, cost was a barrier to accessing new curative treatments. At the time of the listing, then Health Minister Sussan Ley said that she hoped the listing would help eliminate the challenge of hepatitis C altogether.
“The data we’re presenting today directly relates to the estimated 70% of people with hepatitis C related liver damage that have started treatment since 2016, so we can expect to see further reductions in mortality,” said Professor Dore.
“But, more broadly, only 30% of people living with hepatitis C in Australia have been treated, so we need to continue to raise awareness about these life-saving treatments.”
Related Kirby Institute research, also presented at the conference, has shown that the prevalence of active hepatitis C among people who inject drugs – a key population for hepatitis C treatment and prevention – has also fallen, from 43% to 25% between 2015 and 2017.
Dr Jennifer Iversen from the Kirby Institute analysed national data from people who inject drugs attending needle syringe programs.
“Over the past two years, the proportion of people who inject drugs with hepatitis C who have initiated treatment has increased dramatically, from 10% to 41%,” she said.
“This, combined with the reductions in prevalence of active hepatitis C infection, tells us that people who inject drugs are not only taking up hepatitis C treatment, but that they are also seeing their treatment through, and being cured of hepatitis C,” said Dr Iversen.
“This is life-changing news for the individuals who’ve been cured of hepatitis C, but it has important population-level impacts, because when there are fewer people with hepatitis C infection, there is a decreased risk of transmission occurring.”