The release of World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines on Hepatitis B and C Testing has been welcomed by Burnet Institute Head, Centre for Population Health, Professor Margaret Hellard, as an important step towards elimination.
Professor Hellard, who chaired the Guidelines Development Group, described testing and diagnosis as the gateway for access to prevention and treatment services, and a crucial component of an effective response to the hepatitis epidemic.
“These inaugural guidelines are vitally important, because if we are to achieve the 2030 elimination targets for both hepatitis B and hepatitis C, it’s key that countries are able to increase the number of people being tested,” Professor Hellard said.
“One of the biggest issues we have globally is the vast majority of people infected with these diseases are not even aware they’re infected, and that puts them at risk of getting sick and dying from those diseases and transmitting them on to others.
“These guidelines specifically aim to increase the number of people being tested to make it easier for that to happen, with a particular focus on resource-limited countries.”
Hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) are major causes of acute and chronic liver disease and cause an estimated 1.4 million deaths annually, with a disproportionately high burden in low- and middle-income countries, particularly in Asia and Africa.
More than 230,000 Australians live with chronic HCV infection with an estimated annual health care cost of AUD$6.5 billion if left untreated.
Recently awarded a prestigious NHMRC program grant to further research into HCV, Professor Hellard said Australia has an important role to play in the development of point of care tests for HBV and HCV.
“We’re doing work in Melbourne, and with the Kirby Institute in Sydney to understand how point of care tests can be effectively used within the community,” Professor Hellard said.
“They’re projects aimed at improving point of care testing and how this can be translated into resource-limited settings.
“It’s a very exciting time for hepatitis B and hepatitis C research and this is one of the things that will really move that agenda forward.”
Find out more about Burnet’s Hepatitis C research and Eliminate Hep C initiatives, and click here to download the WHO Guidelines on Hepatitis B and C Testing.