Press release from the AIVL:
“People Who Use Drugs Welcome Decision to ‘Seize the Day’ on New Hepatitis C Treatments”
The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) celebrates today’s momentous decision by the Australian Government to fund highly effective new hepatitis C treatment medications through their listing on the PBS. In making this decision the Australian Government has taken advantage of an opportunity rarely offered to governments, that is, to end a major public health epidemic by making these highly effective treatments affordable and accessible to the many thousands of Australians living with hepatitis C.
The recently released report from the Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Hepatitis C in Australia declared in its introductory sentence that: “Hepatitis C, an infectious disease is the most prevalent blood-borne virus in Australia affecting an estimated 230,000 people.” The vast majority of people living with hepatitis C in Australia are people who inject/have injected illicit drugs.
“Today we stand together with all Australians living with hepatitis C who have been waiting so long to welcome this news. Many people have been delaying treatment in the hope of an announcement like this that will allow people to be treated regardless of genotype and in a way that is affordable for the individual. The investment of $1 billion dollars by the Australian Government to subsidise life-saving treatments has the potential to transform the hepatitis C treatment landscape in Australia” says Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer.
For people living with hepatitis C, Australia is in the midst of a public crisis including a dramatic increase in serious liver disease and deaths (from liver cancer and liver failure) associated with chronic hepatitis C infection. The number of people with at least moderate liver disease has more than doubled in the last 10 years and current hepatitis C mortality rates are estimated at almost 700 deaths per annum. Diagnosis and treatment costs associated with advanced liver disease and cancer are currently almost $80 million annually and chronic hepatitis C is now the leading indication for liver transplantation in Australia.
With extremely low levels of treatment access and uptake and a growing cohort of people with chronic hepatitis C who have been infected for 20 years or more, serious illness, liver transplantation and deaths associated with hepatitis C were set to rise significantly over the coming decade. This $1 billion dollar investment in hepatitis C treatment by the Australian Government is what was required to address this situation.
“The new generation of hepatitis C treatments with significantly shorter treatment duration, increased tolerability, reduced medications and increased efficacy will significantly improve treatment for people with chronic hepatitis C infection. For the first time ever, we have targets agreed by all federal and state/territory health ministers for both hepatitis C prevention and treatment in the National Hepatitis C Strategy 2014-2017. Providing people living with hepatitis C with affordable access to these life-saving, new generation treatments give us a real chance at meeting the targets in the National Strategy” declared Ms Madden.
The new generation hepatitis C treatments clear the virus in over 80-90% of people, can PREVENT CANCER and reduce mortality. We just need to ensure these ground-breaking new treatments are delivered in an appropriate way for those most affected and that we address the significant barriers to hepatitis C treatment associated with stigma, discrimination and the ongoing criminalisation of people who use illicit drugs. Currently less than 2% of people accessing NSP have ever had hepatitis C treatment.
“In addition to providing access hepatitis C treatment in tertiary care settings in hospitals, we need to be providing access to treatment in settings that present less barriers for people who inject drugs (PWID) such as community clinics connected with NSPs and primary health care settings that incorporate PWID peer support workers. Making the most of the new generation treatments will require genuine mobilisation and engagement with the main affected community and this means that peer–based drug user organisations must be central in creating those partnerships and pathways to care for people who inject drugs” concluded Ms Madden.