Over the next 20 years the elimination of Hepatitis C (HCV) is a real possibility if new HCV treatments combined with harm reduction programs are properly rolled out, according to World Health Organization (WHO) experts, including Burnet Institute’s Professor Margaret Hellard.
Speaking at a press conference to celebrate World Hepatitis Day, Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard said if the elimination of HCV is to happen there should be greater focus on treating people who inject drugs and ensuring they had access to clean needles and syringes and injecting equipment and opioid substitution therapy (OST).
“We are in a moment in time, the new direct acting antiviral drugs will be available, the people who need to be treated for HCV, people who inject drugs, are wanting to have treatment but currently we do not provide adequate care for this group,” Professor Hellard said.
“People who inject drugs are an easy group to treat but there is stigma and discrimination. A key problem around the world is that illegality associated with injecting drug use; civilisation prevents many people who inject drugs from accessing health services to help manage their HCV or accessing harm reduction service to reduce their risk of infection”.
She said in Australia, we need to improve the provision of healthcare and support services for these people in the right locations.
“The models tell us that if we treat people who inject drugs with new direct-acting antivirals, we can eliminate hepatitis C, but it needs to be undertaken in conjunction with needle and syringe programs and OST,” she explained. Also services need to be located in community settings with experience in managing this key population.
“In Melbourne, if you take health clinics to the communities such as primary health care services, you can treat people who inject drugs easily for their hepatitis C; at the same time they can get clean needles and obtain opioid substitution therapy all in one place.”
Between 130 and 150 million people around the world have chronic hepatitis C infection with around 350,000 to 500,000 people dying each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases.