People Most Affected by Hepatitis C Welcome Launch of the National Hepatitis C Strategy 2010-2013

"People Most Affected by Hepatitis C Welcome Launch of the National Hepatitis C Strategy 2010-2013"

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) the national organisation representing those most affected by hepatitis C welcomes the launch of the  National Hepatitis C Strategy 2010-2013 by the Hon Mark Butler MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Health in Melbourne today.

Ms. Annie Madden, AIVL’s Executive Officer stated, “The launch of this important strategy will allow us to build on our successes and ensures that Australia remains committed and focused to the challenges posed by hepatitis C”.

As at 2008 an estimated 212,000 Australians were living with chronic hepatitis C, which continues to be one of the most commonly reported notifiable infectious diseases in Australia. Projections of people living with hepatitis C, while uncertain, estimate that in 2020, between 321,000 – 836,000 people could be living with the virus.

Ms. Madden continued, “The strategy’s focus on reducing transmission, reducing the burden of disease and increasing understanding of the virus and risk factors is critical. We are also pleased to see an ongoing commitment to harm reduction and the firm partnerships cemented through the previous strategies including a focus on valuing the role of the affected communities”.

Prevention of transmission, management of symptoms, access to treatment and discrimination and stigma are some of the complex issues that people who inject drugs and those on opioid pharmacotherapies have to manage in relation to hepatitis C. Many people who inject drugs and on pharmacotherapies are also often coping with a range of other pressing health and social issues which can prevent them from being able to prioritise dealing with hepatitis C.

“This is a comprehensive strategy that has the capacity to address the complex health needs of people who inject drugs in relation to hepatitis C however; effective implementation of the Strategy is going to take commitment from all parts of the hepatitis C partnership. AIVL welcomes the introduction of a strategy implementation plan to ensure that we maximise the outcomes of the Strategy”. Ms. Madden commented.

Ultimately however, there is a sense urgency associated with this new Strategy. Despite the good news of decreases in hepatitis C infection rates over the past few years, there is still an estimated 10,000 new infections every year in Australia. The vast majority of these, indeed almost 90 percent of them, are among people who inject drugs. This factor, coupled with ongoing barriers to accessing testing, diagnosis, treatment and care for this group means that there are a range of significant challenges that must be addressed across the life of the Strategy.

“If we are honest as a community we know that entrenched stigma and discrimination are at the heart of many of the barriers to hepatitis C prevention, treatment and care for people who inject drugs. Address this issue effectively and this new National Strategy will have been a public health success. Ignore it and a great deal of unnecessary suffering and illness will continue that will not only impact on the individuals concerned but the entire community.” concluded Ms Madden.