Time For Action to prevent lives lost to viral hepatitis.

An urgent call for government action to better equip half a million Australians living with viral hepatitis in combating life-threatening liver disease has been issued by peak health groups.

Calling for increased testing, improved access to liver check-ups and rapid access to new therapies, Hepatitis Australia and the leading state and territory hepatitis organisations warn that 1,000 Australian lives are lost each year due to hepatitis-related liver disease, and without urgent action, deaths from viral hepatitis will increase.

Speaking on World Hepatitis Day (28 July), Hepatitis Australia CEO, Helen Tyrrell said that Australia must never lose sight of the fact that hepatitis B and C are preventable, treatable liver health conditions.

“Chronic hepatitis B and C are liver-destroying viruses that affect half a million Australians – that’s one Australian for every 40 people, more people than the combined populations of Canberra and Darwin – yet only a fraction of these people are being monitored or treated,” she said.

"2015 has been a watershed year in the fight against viral hepatitis with a Federal Government inquiry into Hepatitis C, an advisory committee recommendation for the Government to subsidise new generation hepatitis C interferon-free therapies and improved access to hepatitis B medicines.

“However without urgent action, Australia risks squandering a huge opportunity to help half a million Australians living with chronic hepatitis B and C – that’s why we’re launching our Time For Action campaign today,” said Ms Tyrrell.

The Time For Action campaign aims to highlight the simple but positive actions individuals, communities, healthcare providers and governments can take to combat viral hepatitis.

With a call to ‘get tested, have a liver check-up, and ask about treatment’, the campaign aims to encourage Australians living with chronic hepatitis to protect their liver health. It also includes a call for governments to increase access to liver health services and new treatments and achieve the targets set in the National Strategies.

“It is essential that communities stand shoulder-to-shoulder with people living with hepatitis to ensure we prevent, test, monitor and treat hepatitis B and hepatitis C at every opportunity,” Ms Tyrrell said.

The Time For Action campaign coincides with the release of new research findings from people impacted by hepatitis B and C which identifies significant barriers to testing, liver check-ups and treatment, including negative community attitudes and stigma which deter many people from seeking medical help.

Respondents to the Galaxy Research survey expressed frustration about general practitioners’ lack of knowledge and understanding of hepatitis and long waiting times to see specialists. Sixty-one per cent of those surveyed cited the prohibitive cost of new generation hepatitis C treatments not yet subsidised by the Federal Government as a major barrier to undergoing treatment.

Hepatitis Australia said that Australia needs to use all the tools at its disposal – from hepatitis B vaccination, needle and syringe programs, liver check-ups and antiviral therapy – to reduce the burden of chronic hepatitis B and C.

Pointing to survey respondents’ comments that they wait the best part of a year for liver clinic appointments and are ‘sick and tired of being told to hang in there’ until their liver fails or they develop liver cancer, Ms Tyrrell said governments need to hear the message ‘loud and clear’ that it’s time for action. 

“Many Australians living with hepatitis B and C would like nothing more than to act and start treatment, but many have excessive waits for liver clinic appointments and the new generation of hepatitis C medicines remain out of reach. Now is the time for the Australian governments to set limits on liver clinic waiting times, support expansion of community based hepatitis health services and subsidise new hepatitis C treatments,” Ms Tyrrell concluded.

Click here for more information about World Hepatitis Day   |   View the #TimeForAction launch video  

Global health community renew commitment to tackling viral hepatitis at 66th World Health Assembly

May 21, 2013--Switzerland, Geneva--Ministers of Health and global health advocates from across the world yesterday committed to prioritising viral hepatitis as an urgent public health issue at a meeting at the 66th World Health Assembly.  Coordinated by the Brazilian Ministry of Health and the World Hepatitis Alliance, the meeting, titled ‘Viral Hepatitis: Addressing the Challenge of the 21st Century’ saw a renewal of the commitment that Health Ministers first made at the 2010 World Health Assembly, when they passed resolution WHA63.18.

Speaking as the meeting came to a close, Charles Gore, President of the World Hepatitis Alliance explained “It has been three years since the World Health Assembly passed a resolution on viral hepatitis and recognized for the first time the serious global threat that hepatitis B and C pose to the international community.  While progress has been made, much more still needs to be done if we are to prevent the death toll from hepatitis, which is already the same as from HIV/AIDS, rapidly overtaking it. I am delighted that so many Ministries attended this meeting today and that we achieved a major new consensus to accelerate the global response to viral hepatitis.”

The meeting, which took part alongside the World Health Assembly, saw Ministers and global advocates share best practices in public policy, and resulted in Member States committing to hold a summit in November to coordinate a global effort tackling all aspects of viral hepatitis, from awareness and prevention through to diagnosis and access to affordable medicine.

The development is welcomed by patient groups the world over, who have long been calling for more action to address hepatitis. Although viral hepatitis is responsible for 1.5 million deaths every year and is the 8th leading cause of death worldwide, viral hepatitis has none of the profile, funding or awareness needed to tackle such a global public health threat. “With a mortality rate as high as that of HIV/AIDS, it really is incomprehensible that viral hepatitis has such low awareness and priority” said Mr Gore. To highlight the effects of this, WHO in collaboration with the World Hepatitis Alliance has commissioned the Viral Hepatitis: Prevention & Control Global Policy report, to assess the existing national responses to hepatitis. The report, due for release on World Hepatitis Day (July 28th) this year, is expected to show that with a few notable exceptions, the global response to hepatitis still lacks focus, sophistication or cohesion across national borders.

For this reason, it is of great significance that WHO Member States from across all six world regions have come together to challenge the current low priority of viral hepatitis, instil a sense of urgency in other global actors and ensure that from now on initiatives aimed at tackling public global health threats include viral hepatitis.