Reaching the 170,000+ Australians who have yet to start life-saving hepatitis C treatment is the driving force behind Eliminate Hepatitis C Australia (EC Australia).
EC Australia, launched at Parliament House by the former federal health minister, the Hon Greg Hunt MP, in partnership with the Paul Ramsay Foundation, is a multi-million dollar targeted, national response to the serious decline in the uptake by Australians of highly effective drugs to cure hepatitis C.
Burnet and Paul Ramsay Foundation representatives (L-R) Brian Graetz, Brendan Crabb, Helen Evans, Rob Milne, Margaret Hellard, Miche Paterson, Greg Hutchinson and Simon Freeman.
Since 2016, 58,000 Australians have commenced HCV treatment, including 43,000 in the first 15 months, but the numbers have fallen every month since. A further 170,000 Australians, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people who have injected drugs, prisoners, and gay and bisexual men, are estimated to be living with hepatitis C.
Australia is a world leader in the quest to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030, building on partnerships between government, civil society, health
professionals and researchers.
Unrestricted access to direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) with specialists, general practitioners and nurse practitioners all able to prescribe curative hepatitis C
treatment is a game changer.
DAA therapy has revolutionised hepatitis C care, the medications are safe, highly effective (95 per cent cure rate) and require one tablet daily over 8-12 weeks.
When treatment is combined with harm reduction and universal access to testing, it means hepatitis C elimination in Australia becomes an achievable goal. However, there is much work to be done.
Since the DAAs were listed on the PBS in March 2016, over 50,000 people across Australia have been treated, around 26 per cent of all people living with hepatitis C.
However, the number of people commencing treatment is falling, putting Australia at risk of missing its elimination targets.
Co-ordinated by Burnet Institute, the specific goals of EC Australia are to:
• Ensure that 15,000 Australians with chronic hepatitis C are treated and cured of their infection annually
• Ensure that people identified with cirrhosis related to hepatitis C infection are treated and cured, and regularly reviewed to monitor for liver cancer
• Establish a national collaborative framework to facilitate a coordinated response to the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat from Australia by 2030.
The initiative is also looking to inform government policy and increase hepatitis C awareness, testing and treatment for high risk and vulnerable communities.
For the first time, EC Australia, funded through an AUD$11.33 million grant from the Paul Ramsay Foundation, will bring together researchers, scientists, government, health services and community organisations to deliver a coordinated national response.
EC Australia Chief Investigator and Burnet Deputy Director, Professor Margaret Hellard said it’s critical for Australians infected with hepatitis C to be tested, treated and cured to stop the transmission of new infections and hepatitis C-related deaths.
“Many people don’t know their status, many are discouraged from seeking treatment because of stigma, and it’s a tragedy that they are missing out on life-saving therapies which are so readily available,” Professor Hellard said.
“We now have the opportunity and the tools to eliminate this disease as a public health threat. EC Australia can make sure the tools are applied effectively to improve community health and make Australia a world leader in the elimination of hepatitis C.”
Chief Executive Officer of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Simon Freeman is proud to support this national initiative and emphasises that the timing of this partnership is critical.
“As an organisation, we are committed to supporting programs that address disadvantage amongst the Australian community and sadly hepatitis C is closely linked with disadvantage,” Mr Freeman said.
“But it can be cured, and with the treatments currently made available by the Federal government, we feel that this is an opportune time for us to step in and support this initiative in the hope that we can break the cycle of hepatitis C - improving prevention and ensuring treatment access for anyone who needs it.”
It is vital that high treatment numbers are maintained to stop new hepatitis C infections and hepatitis C-related deaths.
To make this happen requires:
• Awareness that cure is possible
• Making testing for hepatitis C easier
• Making it easy for people to get treated and cured
• Working to prevent new hepatitis C infections
We have the chance to eliminate hepatitis C from Australia.
Funding to 2021 - The overarching goal of EC Australia is to eliminate
hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030.