Hepatitis C: Less Than 1% Of Those Who Are Most Affected Are Receiving Treatment

National Hepatitis C Treatments Awareness Week
Hepatitis C: Less Than 1% Of Those Who Are Most Affected Are Receiving Treatment

With an estimated 242,000 Australians living with hepatitis C and 16,000 new infections every year there is urgent need for increased access to hepatitis C treatment for those most affected by the virus.

Ms Annie Madden the Executive Officer of the Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) which is the peak national organisation representing the people most affected by hepatitis C states that “despite the improvements in treatment for chronic hepatitis C with upwards of 50% of those treated with combination therapy continuing to test negative to the virus 12 months after treatment, very few of those most at risk of infection are accessing treatment.”

“People who inject or have injected illicit drugs make up the vast majority of people living with chronic hepatitis C infection but less than 1% of these people are accessing government subsidised interferon and ribavirin combination therapy” Ms Madden added.

The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League is concerned that the negative attitudes of health professionals towards people with a history of injecting drug use is preventing people from even considering treatment for what can be a chronically debilitating and even life threatening condition.

“The reality is that people with a history of injecting drug use were excluded from being able to seek treatment for hepatitis C until quite recently. It is almost unbelievable that the group most at risk of hepatitis C were excluded until just four years ago from accessing the government subsidised treatment” Ms Madden said.

While being someone who injects or has injected drugs no longer automatically excludes you from treatment for hepatitis C in many ways the damage has already been done. “AIVL recently heard about the only liver specialist in a major regional city who refuses to consider anyone who is on the methadone program for hepatitis C treatment on the basis that he believes they will simply get re-infected. People are being judged and denied access to treatment without clinical assessment and on the basis of discriminatory and outdated attitudes” Ms Madden stated.

There are many reasons why people may choose not to access hepatitis C treatment such as concerns about having a liver biopsy, fears about treatment side-effects and the fact that people may not be in the position to consider undertaking a lengthy and complex form of treatment.

“We need to ensure however, that all people who are eligible for and wish to access government subsidised hepatitis C treatment can do so not just on paper in relation to the guidelines but in practice through implementation of good clinical standards” added Ms Madden.

For further comment contact Ms Annie Madden Executive Officer on ph: (02) 6279 1600.