A sharp decline in the number of Australians receiving breakthrough therapy to cure hepatitis C has prompted urgent appeals for those living with the virus to come forward.
Since these medicines were first added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2016, around 60,000 Australians have been cured of hepatitis C. However, it is estimated that more than 170,000 Australians are still living with the virus.
Anyone with hepatitis C remains at increased risk of serious liver disease, including liver failure, liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and possible death.
Before 2016, hepatitis C treatment could take 6 to 12 months, and had unpleasant side effects such as flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, swellings or other reactions.
The new hepatitis C cure simply requires taking one tablet daily for around 8-12 weeks, and can be prescribed by GPs, rather than attending a liver clinic. There are few side-effects, and it cures 95% of people.
From March to November 2016, an average of 3,400 people per month took the cure. This then dropped to an average of 1,800 per month through last year, and an average of 1,300 per month since December.
“People who are living with hepatitis C cannot tell if their liver health is deteriorating as there are few symptoms, other than tiredness,” says Hepatitis Australia CEO Helen Tyrrell. They need to come forward and ask their GP for the treatment.
If you are living with hepatitis C or would like more information, ring the National Infoline on 1800 437 222, or visit www.worldhepatitisday.org.au.