First national mapping project of chronic hepatitis C shows areas with highest infection prevalence have lowest treatment rates

Source: ASHM 6 March 2017

  • Chronic hepatitis C (CHC) prevalence is generally higher in rural and regional locations, lower in metropolitan
  • Inaugural National Report allows each local area to track their progress and identify areas needing greater access to treatment
  • Australia has the potential to treat all people living with CHC and eliminate hepatitis C from the population

Curative treatment uptake for chronic hepatitis C (CHC) is generally at its lowest in local areas where prevalence of the virus is at its highest, according to the inaugural Hepatitis C Mapping Project National Report 2016 recently launched in Melbourne.

A year on from treatment being placed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the Project found uptake was less than half the national average of 19% in higher prevalence areas including Western Queensland (6.9%), Northern Territory (9.4%), and Brisbane South (10.7%). Areas with the highest coverage included Adelaide (25.9%), North Coast New South Wales (25.3%), and South Eastern Melbourne (25.1%).  

The National Viral Hepatitis Mapping Project, which maps the prevalence, diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of hepatitis B and C, was undertaken by the WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis (WHOCCVH) at the Doherty Institute (a joint venture of The University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital), in partnership with the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health (ASHM) and funded by the Federal Department of Health, using data from national communicable disease surveillance, along with records from the PBS available from Medicare Australia. The project produced the first Hepatitis C Mapping Project National Report and the fourth Hepatitis B Mapping Project National Report.

Previous estimation of CHC prevalence and treatment uptake has provided national and state data, while this project provides the first study of local areas, allowing researchers to find gaps in treatment, and identify priorities to work towards the future elimination of CHC.

Director of the WHOCCVH, Associate Professor Benjamin Cowie, said Australia had the potential to treat all people living with CHC.

“Australia is uniquely placed to achieve elimination of hepatitis C through partnership between people living with hepatitis C, community organisations, clinicians and policy makers. In some areas of the country, treatment uptake is three times higher than in others, so we need to focus on improving access for people living in under-serviced regions,” he said.

“As we progress towards treating all people affected by hepatitis C, it will become increasingly important to track what is working, and to know where we are missing people who require access to treatment.”

Hepatitis C treatment is subsidised through the Australian Government via Medicare.

Access to the full report: http://ashm.org.au/products/product/HepC-Mapping-Report-2016