Action required on falling treatment rates

Source: PharmaDispatch   Author:  Paul Cross

Australia will not achieve the goal of eradicating hepatitis C without further action to ensure patients are identified and treated.

Speaking with PharmaDispatch following her appointment as president of Hepatitis Australia, Felicity McNeill PSM, said so much positive work has been done, with thousands of people cured, but all stakeholders must come together to address the fact treatment rates are in decline.

The latest data from the Department of Human Services shows monthly uptake of the direct acting antiviral cures for hepatitis C has more than halved since hitting a peak in June 2016.

Uptake of the therapies soared in the months after they were listed on the PBS in March 2016 as thousands of patients 'warehoused' in advance of their reimbursement accessed treatment. However, while the Kirby Institute estimates around 36,000 patients were initiated on treatment in the first year, that number will be substantially lower in the second year.

Approximately 55,000 patients are expected to be treated in the first two years, leaving around 200,000 Australians still infected with the deadly virus, with thousands of new infections every year.

According to Ms McNeill, the decline in treatment is "worrying" and suggests a number of potential issues, ranging from low consumer awareness to stigma, complacency and even challenges with diagnosis and access.

"Nobody would think access could be an issue, given they are funded through the PBS, and so much work has been done by so many to ensure tens of thousands of Australians have been cured. Primary care is now key to achieving the goal of eradication," she said, adding success in hepatitis C is essential because of the emerging new therapies for hepatitis B.

"This is more than a trial run for hepatitis B but it can be the model used when the new therapies emerge from company pipelines."

Ms McNeill hardly requires any introduction to the pharmaceutical sector, having spent almost five years heading the Department of Health's Pharmaceutical Benefits Division, a role for which she was recognised with the Public Service Medal (PSM) in the 2016 Australia Day Awards.

The new president of Hepatitis Australia spent two decades in the Australian public service, including senior roles in the Department of Finance and Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development in addition to the Department of Health, retiring after stints heading the Office of Health Protection and Organ and Tissue Authority.

On why she accepted the presidency of Hepatitis Australia, Ms McNeill reveals a passion for public health and ensuring the hard work of securing funding for the hepatitis C therapies delivers the intended outcome, telling PharmaDispatch the challenges faced by the tens of thousands of Australians living with the virus can not be underestimated.

Republished with the permission of PharmaDispatch.