Health experts say more attention needs to be focused on the treatment of Hepatitis B - the deadly liver disease which affects more than 220,000 Australians.

Source: SBS News  Author:  Sacha Payne

Australia leads the world in curing Hepatitis C, with record numbers receiving treatment for the virus in the last five months.

But, awareness of testing and treatment is not the same for those living with the liver disease Hepatitis B – an issue health experts say needs urgent attention.

While Australians receiving treatment for Hepatitis C increased from 3,000 to 20,000 people after direct-action antiviral (DAA) medications were listed in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme five months ago, doctors say awareness around Hepatitis B is falling behind.

Royal Melbourne Hospital Associate Professor Dr Benjamin Cowie said diagnosis and care for Australians with Hepatitis B does not match the success of treatment for Hepatitis C.

“We can certainly offer access for Hepatitis C drugs to virtually everyone in Australia living with the condition,” Dr Cowie said.

“But we are not doing as well in terms of diagnosing people and getting them into care for Hepatitis B.”

Hepatitis B is the most common liver infection in the world.

It’s estimated that around 220,000 Australians live with the disease, however only half of those cases are diagnosed.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and migrants born in Asia, the Pacific Islands, North African and Middle Eastern countries, face an increased risk of Hepatitis B infection.

Macquarie University Associate Professor and Hepatologist Dr Alice Lee told SBS a lack of awareness and access to medical services was to blame for increased prevalence of Hepatitis B infection in Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and migrant communities.

“Some of these communities are from really remote areas and some of the highest rates of Hepatitis B are seen in some of the pockets of Australia where access to healthcare can be quite difficult,” Dr Lee said.

Dr Cowie said health programs need to target these high-risk communities.

“With two-thirds of people living with Hepatitis B in Australia having been born overseas, or being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there are different programs we need to put in place,” Dr Cowie said.

“We really need to have a focus on those priority populations.”

Hepatitis is responsible for more deaths globally than malaria, Tuberculosis or HIV.

World health experts are working towards eliminating hepatitis as a public health threat by the year 2030.

“By 2030 we hope that not only do we eliminate it as a public health threat, but also ensure that 80 per cent of people with Hepatitis B and C have access to treatments,” Dr Lee said. 

Lien Tran was diagnosed with Hepatitis B in 2003.

The vibrant mother of two doesn’t let her diagnosis slow her down, but admitted misinformation around the blood-borne virus can make life difficult for many.

“The main myth is that you must have done something not really good to get Hep B or Hep C,” Ms Tran said.