Original article published here
More people are on track to be cured of hepatitis C in Australia this year than over the past two decades combined, new research has shown.
A University of New South Wales Kirby Institute report shows about 230,000 people were living with hepatitis C across the country last year, but only one in five received treatment.
Hepatitis C is transferred by blood-to-blood contact and is often spread by sharing drug injecting equipment.
An oral anti-viral treatment, with a cure rate over 90 per cent, was listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in March, and more than 26,000 people have accessed help since.
Professor Gregory Dore said the report results put Australia far ahead of other nations.
“There’s absolutely no doubt that Australia is the envy of the world,” he said.
“In the first five months of access … more than 10 per cent of the population with chronic hepatitis C has already commenced these therapies.
“If you compare that to many other countries in their first 12 months of treatment, if you can treat 5 or 7 per cent of the population in the first year of these therapies you’re thought to be doing pretty well.”
Virus on the rise in Aboriginal communities
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with hepatitis C, diagnoses have increased by over 40 per cent in the past five years.
Gadigal man Glenn Wagner said hepatitis C treatment was not always so simple, having suffered the debilitating side-effects of early treatments.
“I lost 35 kilos, I had no appetite, everything tasted like cardboard,” he said.
“Half the time I could sleep, half the time I couldn’t sleep.
“Once I had the injection, the next two or three days, I couldn’t do anything.”
Since taking the new oral tablets, Mr Wagner has not experienced any side-effects.
But the wider Indigenous population with hepatitis C is not showing such positive results, with the rate of diagnosis between three and four times greater than in non-Indigenous communities.
“There’s no doubt that hepatitis C, and hepatitis B for that matter, have a disproportionate impact on the Indigenous population in Australia,” Professor Dore said.
Access and awareness of treatments problem for marginalised
A second study from the UNSW Centre for Social Research and Health showed access and awareness of treatment among other marginalised groups continues to be a problem.
It found of the 405 gay and bisexual men surveyed, only about a third were aware a treatment to cure hepatitis C was available.
Professor Carla Treloar said it showed tailored solutions were necessary.
“There are numerous ways in which the Aboriginal community could be targeted more specifically and in ways that are culturally appropriate to provide information, education and then links to care and support for people living with hepatitis C,” she said.
“We know that prevention is cost effective and cheaper than cure.
“So we cannot lose sight of providing the technologies we know will assist people who inject drugs to protect and promote their health.”
Professor Treloar said increased investment in syringe programs and opiate substitution treatments were needed.
Hep C stigma rampant in Indigenous communities
Mr Wagner said increased cultural understanding of Indigenous populations could help decrease hepatitis across communities.
“There’s a lot of intergenerational mistrust of white Australia, so I think that plays into it,” he said.
“Community is everything … because the stigma attached to hepatitis C is still prevalent and out there.
“If the community supports you, you don’t feel the shame.”
Professor Treloar found those with hepatitis C, but with close ties to their Aboriginal community, were more likely to show greater resilience, have a better quality of life and experience less stigma, than those who were not as attached to their community.
At 50 years of age, Mr Wagner is studying Human Services at university and is due to graduate next year.
He was cured of hepatitis C last week.