Burnet’s Professor Margaret Hellard says the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into hepatitis C has a key role to play in the development of a strategy for the elimination of the disease in Australia.
The Inquiry, conducted by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health, was in Melbourne on Wednesday for the first of two round table hearings with support services and medical experts on testing and treatment options.
Professor Hellard, Head, Centre for Population Health at Burnet Institute, told the hearing that hepatitis C, which affects more than 230,000 Australians, could be eliminated by 2030.
“To do this we need to take a strategic approach which requires a combination of harm reduction, opiate substitution therapy, needle and syringe programs, both in the community and correctional settings,” Professor Hellard said.
“Then there’s treatment, which is required for people who have significant liver disease.”
“We are at a time in history which is unusual for infectious diseases in the sense that we have a cure for hepatitis C; the new drugs that are available make that possible.
“It means that people with significant liver disease, stage 3 and 4, what we call fibrosis, can be cured, and so people should not be dying of this disease.
“By 2030 there should be no deaths in Australia related to hepatitis C.”
Professor Hellard said the effective treatment of the transmitters of infection – predominantly, people who inject drugs – is a critical part of the strategy.
“If we use these treatments wisely, we can turn off the tap of infection, and we can ensure that by 2030 we’ve reduced transmission of hepatitis C so that it’s no longer a significant health issue for Australia,” she said.
“These things are possible, but we need our politicians to be brave, we need them to be wise, we need them to be bold.
“We need ‘hepatitis heroes’ amongst our leaders in the political arena so that we can solve this health problem for Australia and show leadership globally around how to solve the hepatitis C problem.”
Professor Hellard said she believes she and other Inquiry stakeholders, including Hepatitis Victoria, the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, the Australian Liver Association and Haemophilia Foundation Australia, were well received.
“I think the Committee came away much better informed about hepatitis C and the key issues that need to be addressed to reduce the impact of this virus which is leading to significant deaths in Australia,” Professor Hellard said.
“It’s my hope that we will come up with a strategic plan and vision for the elimination of hepatitis C in Australia.”
The Inquiry conducted its second round table hearing in Sydney on Thursday ahead of the deadline for written submissions at the end of February.