Although the number of current sufferers is alarming, recent statistics released by Hepatitis Australia show that there is hope. 95 percent of people treated for hepatitis C with a new drug have had a successful outcome and Hepatitis Australia chief executive, Helen Tyrell, said that the virus may be eliminated within the next decade thanks to the revolutionary drug.
“We’re on track to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat in Australia within 10 to 15 years,” she said.
Helen Tyrell said that this is the first time that complete elimination of the hepatitis C virus is on the horizon and that a record number of people have been successfully treated in the past few months.
“We have new estimates from the Kirby Institute, which indicate in just four months over 22,000 people living with hepatitis C have commenced treatment.”
“That is 10 per cent of all people living with hep C in Australia,” she said.
“It is an absolutely massive increase on the number previous treated each year, which was around 2,000 to 3,000.”
Ongoing funding is crucial to make hepatitis C a thing of the past in Australia, and then globally, and with World Hepatitis Day happening tomorrow, campaigners are hoping to ramp up donations and share the “#NOhep future” message.
The new treatment for hepatitis C is fast, effective, and not toxic for the body. With a 95 percent success rate and just three months of treatment, Helen Tyrell said the virus should be abolished faster, but only with backing from the government, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.
“The treatment itself is very easy. It is just tablets. It is not toxic and it will generally produce a cure in 12 weeks for 95 per cent of people.”
“Ongoing investment and effective partnerships between Government, researchers, clinicians and also people living with the virus are going to be absolutely vital.”
Helen Tyrell said so many people across are Australia are seeking treatment because of the ease and availability of the cure.
“We don’t have any restrictions on who can access it, people can go to their GP and they can prescribe them the treatment,” she said.
The cost of the treatment is the only thing standing in the way of a hepatitis C free Australia and the numbers show people in more affluent areas are getting more treatment. In Victoria, 13 percent of the state’s 55,760 people with hepatitis C have begun treatment, in South Australia and Western Australia only 5 percent of the hepatitis C population have bought the drugs.
Data from the Kirby Institute shows nearly 22,500 patients have commenced treatment since the drugs were listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in March, representing about 10 percent of all people who are estimated to be living with hepatitis C. But there are still roadblocks, one of the issues stopping people from reaching for the pills is the stigma around the virus. The NOhep tag and World Hepatitis Day are trying to break down the stigma and encourage people to get help.
Sara (last name withheld) had hepatitis C but is now cured. She contracted the virus after sharing drug equipment but had no symptoms. She knows all too well the feeling of wanting to hide after diagnosis.
“There’s stigma and discrimination throughout society when it comes to this virus and you feel embarrassed if you end up becoming infected with it,” Sara said.
“So you keep it to yourself until you feel you have to explain it to people. Because it’s chronic, you’re not scared initially, but you want to do something about it because it can affect your quality of life.”
After taking a single pill, morning and night, for three months, she was cured and hopes that others will go for the treatment as well.
World Hepatitis Day is one of only a few “World Health Days” that is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO), giving it global status. In May 2016, WHO adopted the first ever Global Strategy for viral hepatitis which commits all countries to working towards the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
The message of a NOhep future will be launched on World Hepatitis Day and is a global movement to eliminate viral hepatitis; it provides a platform for people to come together and take action to ensure global commitments are met and viral hepatitis is eliminated by 2030.
[Image via Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock]