Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says World Hepatitis Day is an opportunity to focus on what more can be done to diagnose and treat hepatitis B and C.
“Today marks World Hepatitis Day, and with this year’s theme of ‘eliminating hepatitis’ it’s timely to reflect on the progress being made,” says Dr Coleman.
“In May 2016 New Zealand was one of 194 countries that adopted the World Health Organization’s Global Hepatitis Strategy which set the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. This is achievable in New Zealand.
“Hepatitis C is a viral infection affecting over 50,000 New Zealanders, although it’s estimated only half are currently diagnosed.
“Untreated around 25 per cent will develop cirrhosis, and without successful treatment up to 10 per cent of those with cirrhosis will progress to life-threatening liver cancer or liver failure.
“As a result of this Government’s record funding for Pharmac a year the drug buying agency started funding direct-acting antiviral therapies with cure rates of over 90 per cent for hepatitis C. To date, over 2,000 people have been funded for the new treatments.
“As well as funding these new treatments, in October 2016 we made it easier for people to access them by allowing all prescribers to prescribe the new hepatitis C treatments.
“Since the change 34 per cent of prescribing has been done in primary care– fundamentally changing the way the virus is treated. This uptake is a credit to our dedicated primary care workforce who have really got in behind the new treatments.
“It’s also important to highlight the work of Professor Ed Gane who was awarded New Zealand Innovator of the Year in 2017 in recognition of his work towards the development of a cure for hepatitis C.
“Hepatitis C can be eliminated from New Zealand within the next 20 years but to achieve this, we must increase testing and treatment in primary care.
“This work is being led by DHBs, with support from the Ministry of Health in partnership with Pharmac.
“Great strides have been made towards eliminating hepatitis B, with its vaccine part of the childhood immunisation programme since 1987.
“It’s estimated that around 100,000 New Zealanders are currently living with the virus, with many undiagnosed as symptoms can take decades to appear.
“Treatment is available, and helps prevent further damage and also reverses damage from liver scarring.”