Elimination goal in jeopardy due to government’s failure to act

Media Statement

Hepatitis Australia is very disappointed the Government has chosen not to act to allocate funds in the budget to arrest the decline in hepatitis C treatment. The fall in treatment initiations has been evident for over six months and is putting the Minister’s stated goal of eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 in jeopardy.

To date the Government has indicated that it is waiting for ‘official figures’ to confirm what everyone else in the sector already knows. Hepatitis C treatment has been in decline since last year and is below the level required for elimination goals to be achieved and below the level the government itself needs to extract the best value from its substantial investment in making the hepatitis C cures available to every Australian with the potentially fatal liver disease.

Data suggests that only 1200 patients were initiated on treatment in April 2018. This is well below the Chief Medical Officer’s stated requirement that Australia must treat 1500 to 2000 new patients every month to reach elimination by 2030. Since December 2017 Hepatitis Australia has warned about this decline and numbers being well below the Government’s target – when will the Government choose to act?

Hepatitis Australia was the first organisation to draw attention to the dramatic decline in treatment uptake when it put forward a plan in its pre-budget submission to address the issue.  We recommended the urgent convening of primary care experts in general practice and practice nurses alongside community groups to ensure this world first cure would reach those who may be silently progressing to serious liver disease. Recognising the then tight budget constraints Hepatitis Australia modified its request and asked government to invest $20m over three years to:

  1. Introduce community-based education to encourage those with hepatitis C to come forward for treatment and address concerns about stigma.
  2. Educate the primary care sector, particularly general practitioners and nurse practitioners about the availability of these curative treatments and the diverse types of patients in their practices who could benefit.
  3. Ensure the MBS provides financial recognition of the time and support required to ensure people with hepatitis C are cured, avoiding potential liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver transplants.

The Government politely listened to our concerns. Yet it has failed to act despite a record revenue forecast and investment in other supportive services associated with medicines.  As the numbers decline it becomes much harder to elevate treatment initiations back up to the point where everyone gains. Due to the landmark deal the government negotiated with pharmaceutical companies the more people that are treated the lower the price government pays for the medicines.

Delaying taking action until ‘official’ figures are available makes no sense from a government perspective or for the tens of thousands of Australians we still need to reach to deliver these cures. Unless this issue is urgently addressed elimination will simply take longer, cost more financially and lead to avoidable poor health outcomes for thousands of Australians.

The PBS listing of the hepatitis C medicines in 2016 was the biggest single investment in a cure for a chronic disease ever. It is unconscionable that these cures will not reach the people who need them due to a failure to raise community awareness and support GP education for prescribing. Better health outcomes can be achieved by investing in these measures.

We have been told that the world is watching Australia as we were a leading nation in providing access to these miraculous new medicines and could be one of the first to reach elimination targets. But we have now dropped the ball.

This is such a rare opportunity to eliminate a chronic disease, we cannot squander it. The evidence is clear and action is needed now.

How often do governments, doctors, and the community get the chance to cure a disease? How much longer do we need to wait?

Media Contact: Kevin Marriott 0400 940 321