Thursday, June 13, 2024

Plan to wipe out hepatitis C

A plan to eliminate hepatitis C in New Zealand, reducing liver cancer and the need for liver transplants, has been released today by Associate Minister of Health, Ayesha Verrall.

“Around 45,000 New Zealanders have hepatitis C, but only around half know they have it,” said Dr Verrall.

“Symptoms often don’t appear until much of the damage has been done. Without treatment, most people will develop progressive liver damage. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in New Zealand, and the second leading cause of liver cancer – behind hepatitis B.

“At the same time, many of those with hepatitis C are from our most marginalised communities, and face significant barriers to getting tested and treated – including stigma around the virus. But hepatitis C is preventable, and curable,” she said.

The National Hepatitis C Action Plan was unveiled at a mobile, pop-up testing clinic in Hamilton, to mark World Hepatitis Day. It’s New Zealand’s response to the World Health Organization’s global hepatitis strategy, and sets out how Aotearoa will eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat by 2030.

Since February 2019, around 4,500 New Zealanders with hepatitis C have been treated with Maviret, a new direct-acting antiviral treatment funded by PHARMAC. Maviret is simple to administer, has fewer side effects than previous treatments, and can potentially cure 98 percent of people with chronic hepatitis C.

“Maviret has been a real game-changer, but funding drugs alone won’t achieve elimination. We need to make sure we find everyone who is at risk or has hepatitis C, offer them a test and to treat them,” said Dr Verrall.

Work has already begun under the Action Plan, with a focus on key initiatives including:

  • Developing a national awareness campaign;
  • Upscaling the distribution of free injecting equipment to people who inject drugs, to focus on hepatitis C prevention and reducing new infections;
  • Increasing access to testing through more nurse-led clinics and point of care testing delivered in the community, and through mobile clinics;
  • Increasing uptake of testing and treatment;
  • Developing a surveillance system and virtual registry that will connect diagnosed cases with the treatment they need.

“The Action Plan is the culmination of a major collaborative effort by a group of experts from across the health system. Crucially, this has included NGOs, frontline workers and community representatives with valuable insights into how best to reach those living with hepatitis C,” the Minister said.

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