IMAGE: Professor Margaret Hellard, Head of Burnet's Centre for Population health
Burnet Institute’s Professor Margaret Hellard has a vision for the elimination of hepatitis C in Victoria by 2020, a full decade inside the World Health Organization (WHO) timeframe for global elimination.
Delivering the opening address at Burnet’s Eliminate Hep C Symposium, Professor Hellard described as ‘ambitious, but achievable’ WHO’s goal to eliminate hepatitis C as a major public health threat globally by 2030.
But she believes that with affordable access to new highly effective direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), Victoria has the treatments, the means and the expertise to fast track that process.
“We don’t often get these moments in time, and we should not neglect this moment,” Professor Hellard, Head of Burnet’s Centre for Population Health, said.
“Let’s not wait for 2030, maybe let’s not even wait for 2026, but in Victoria where we have systems that will enable us to do that, let’s be aiming for 2020, and maybe have 2026 as a run over.
“Elimination is going to be achieved by making sure people are diagnosed, making sure they’ve got access to treatment, but also harm reduction will be a central pillar to this.
“We need to make sure people have access to clean needles and syringes and opioid substitution therapy, something that doesn’t happen in many other places globally.”
Professor Hellard said other needs to be addressed include the need for increased testing, the need to treat networks, the need to address stigma and discrimination, and the need for a vaccine.
Associate Professor Heidi Drummer said that vaccines remain the most cost effective means of controlling a disease, and a hep C vaccine would be invaluable, notwithstanding the introduction of the new hep C drugs.
“Wealthy countries like Australia may be able to afford the high cost of DAAs and we have high testing rates so we can detect the people who need treatment,” Associate Professor Drummer said.
IMAGE: Symposium speakers L-R Judy Jackson (HEPSpeak), Professor Greg Dore (Kirby Institute), Professor Margaret Hellard, Dr Joseph Doyle, Jenny Kelsall (Harm Reduction Victoria), Professor Alex Thompson (St Vincent’s Hospital)
“But this isn’t true in the developing world. Diagnosis is not easy, and to treat you need to diagnose.
“The vast burden of this disease is in the developing world, where more than 100 million people have HCV.
“But even in our situation there’s a significant benefit to using a vaccine with DAAs, and it can have a huge impact on how quickly we can achieve our elimination targets.”
Associate Professor Drummer is Burnet’s vaccine team leader in an exciting new collaboration with pharmaceutical technology provider ARTES Biotechnology to develop a novel, effective vaccine to prevent transmission of hepatitis C virus.
Find out more about Burnet’s hepatitis studies including EC, co-EC, TAP and Prime, and the new HepCHelp website to assist general practitioners.
This website was developed with the generous support of a donor.
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