As Australia grapples with COVID-19 outbreaks, it is important to remember that viral hepatitis is also a pandemic. Viral hepatitis can lead to liver cancer and directly impacts nearly 360,000i people in Australia.

 

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the most common blood borne viruses in the world, including here in Australia. Despite some good progress Australia needs to ramp up its responses to hepatitis B and hepatitis C to meet its hepatitis elimination goals.

 

Dave chats with Rob from Taschard who explained the Australian governments remains committed to the global elimination of hepatitis B and C by 2030 and, as Australia’s national hepatitis organisation, we are to help governments and communities to achieve that goal.”

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With World Hepatitis Day this Tuesday, 28 July, Hepatitis Australia is asking Australians to get behind the #LetsTalkHep campaign and start conversations about hepatitis.

 

“We need to keep the hepatitis B and C conversations alive this will challenge stigma and address gaps in our national response.”

 

“For hepatitis B we need to increase the proportion of people living with hepatitis B who have been diagnosed, and regular and timely access to care, and for hepatitis C we need to expand access to testing and cures in primary care.”

 

Data in the Viral Hepatitis Mapping Project: National Report 2018-19, being officially launched this Friday, worryingly shows that Australia is no longer on track to meet the nationally agreed targets outlined in the National Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C Strategies 2018-2022, which were endorsed by the Federal, State and Territory governments.

 

Professor Benjamin Cowie, Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis at the Doherty Institute, and an author of the forthcoming report, said that “four out of every ten people living with hepatitis C have been treated. While this is clearly a huge step forward, given reducing rates of treatment initiation, we must find ways to engage with people who have not yet accessed treatment.Furthermore, with 22 of Australia’s 31 Primary Health Network areas not on track to achieve the National Strategy target of 65% treatment uptake, greater efforts in these areas are clearly needed.

 

With the arrival of COVID-19 earlier this year it was anticipated that some people may not prioritise other healthcare issues, including testing and care for hepatitis. This can have longer-term impacts for people who may have already developed liver disease including cirrhosis and liver cancer due to hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

 

“Pathology testing data shows that there was a general decline in tests for non-COVID conditions, and in the case of hepatitis it appears the numbers have not yet recovered, which is concerning. We encourage anyone who may have ever been at risk of hepatitis or who is living with hepatitis to not put off following up with their doctor for testing, diagnosing or monitoring.”

 

“Pathology testing declined about 40% during the first lockdown in Australia with many people delaying the tests needed to manage chronic conditions. Hepatitis testing rates are still lower than usual. Patients can be reassured that pathology collection centres are following infection control protocols so they can feel safe to attend for their tests, which are vital for diagnosis, monitoring and to guide hepatitis treatment.”

 

The need for a focus on testing for hepatitis is not new. Hepatitis Australia asked Australians about hepatitis testing. In 2019, 72% of respondents who had any risk factors for hepatitis B or C did not know their hepatitis status because they had not been tested or were unsure if they had had a test.

 

“We are again asking Australians in 2020 about testing and so far, is it showing similar results, again indicating a need to increase awareness in the community about infection risks and testing for hepatitis B and C.”

 

“It’s time for a bigger conversation to make sure we work together to get the job done of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health concern in Australia.”

 

The Australian World Hepatitis Day theme for 2020 is ‘Let’s Talk Hep!’ 

For more information visit www.worldhepatitsisday.org.au