In Australia, over 400,000 people are directly affected by hepatitis B or hepatitis C and both viruses can lead to serious liver disease and liver cancer, if left untreated.  With so many people affected it is quite likely each of us, without realising it, knows someone living with hepatitis. Symptoms aren’t always obvious, and people sometimes put them down to feeling tired or getting older. Perhaps it could be a family member, a friend or a work colleague 

To help respond to hepatitis B and C the Australian Government has set national elimination targets for 2022 as well as signed up to the global targets to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030 as a public health issue. Some progress has been made with cures for hepatitis C now available from you GP and listed on the PBS to make them more affordable. 

Hepatitis Australia’s Director or Programs, Kevin Marriott says “we all have a lot of work to do if Australia is to reach the targets and eliminate viral hepatitis. Yes, we now have effective medicines to cure hepatitis C, but we need to ensure GPs are discussing hepatitis with their patients. There is still a way to go for hepatitis B, which still doesn’t have a cure, but is manageable with the regular liver health checks and treatment at the right time. We just need to make sure everyone is getting the care they need”

Many people in Australia are still living with undiagnosed hepatitis B or C.  There are a number of reasons for this – they may be unaware they have previously been at risk, even years ago; they are unaware of the longer -term impacts of hepatitis or; they are concerned about be stigmatised by friends or even health care providers.

“Stigma plays a big role in people not seeking support to talk about hepatitis, get tested or even access treatment through health services.  Among some cultural groups or even in small communities this can be heightened.”

“This year for World Hepatitis Day we are encouraging people to take a short quiz to see if they may have been at risk of hepatitis in the past and whether they should talk to their doctor about hepatitis.”

Infection with hepatitis B and C is preventable. There are effective and safe vaccines to protect against hepatitis B but none for hepatitis C.  You can find out more about the risks of getting hepatitis on the Hepatitis Australia website. 

World Hepatitis Day on 28 July is a reminder that we need to break down the barriers and ensure people living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C are supported to access the care they need. Whether it is access to hep B vaccinations, management and treatment for hepatitis B or a cure for hepatitis C, all of this will help improve lives and eventually see the elimination of viral hepatitis in Australia.

“Being informed and talking about hepatitis is the best way to create momentum and support others to do the same.  It can help empower people living with hepatitis to come forward are tell their story and access care. Hearing how hepatitis actually affects someone and understanding the challenges they face is very powerful, and sometimes surprising

“Since the new cures became available for hepatitis C we have been encouraging people to share their personal stories of what being cured has meant to them. The highs and the lows. Recently in the lead up to World Hepatitis Day we have had people sharing their stories on our Facebook page” 

“Hep C can be cured now. People need to talk to their doctors, in 3-6 months you can be cured. I was! I had Hep C for over 36 years, I have been Hep C free for 2.5 yrs!” – Facebook user July 2019.

“I had hep C. Did interferon and ribo which made so sick. I got really sick and was 60 kg from 100 kg. I had bad transfusion yrs ago. 3 months [new] treatment and I am cured. I'm now overweight and have my life back.” – Facebook user July 2019. 

To find out more about World Hepatitis Day in Australia you can visit the website at worldhepatitisday.org.au

To find out more about hepatitis you can call the hepatitis organisation in your state on 1800 437 222.