It’s World Hepatitis Day on Friday, July 28 and “we’re not waiting” to stick it to the virus, with plenty of events planned around the country.
We’re Not Waiting is the international theme this year, a call to action to accelerate elimination of viral hepatitis and help people understand the urgent need for testing and treatment.
Hepatitis C is a highly infectious blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It is a significant public health issue in New Zealand, which can lead to illness and deaths from cirrhosis and liver cancer. There are about 500 new cases of hepatitis C each year, and about 30,000 people living with the virus.
There is no vaccine, but the virus can be cured with 8 weeks of tablets.
That’s one of the key messages that will be promoted around the country on July 28, in numerous public and media events.
These will support ground-breaking work under way to reduce barriers to treatment, including the initiative to allow nurses and pharmacists to provide hepatitis C treatment Maviret. New Zealand's Medicines Classification Committee has recently considered this change and although further approvals and training are needed, this should further reduce barriers to accessing diagnosis and treatment.
The day is also an opportunity to promote the recently completed National Hepatitis C HealthPathway, which has been jointly developed to support general practice and other community-based nurses taking a consistent approach at the point of care.
Professor Ed Gane, Chair of the National Hepatitis C Oversight Group, says treatment for hepatitis C is easy, safe and can cure every New Zealander living with it.
“Although more than 12,000 people have already been cured, HepC remains a leading cause of liver transplants and liver cancer in this country, and people with HepC die almost 20 years younger than those without HepC,” he says.
“Treatment will prevent all of these complications and return life expectancy to normal.
“A number of innovative programmes have been launched as part of our National Plan to make it easier to get tested and treated in the community, the most successful being the point of care finger-prick testing. Already, 15,000 Kiwis have had the test and treatment numbers are finally starting to rise.
“I am very excited about these innovative approaches to remove barriers to testing and treatment throughout Aotearoa which will help us eliminate HepC by 2030.
“So the message is simple - don’t wait, get tested, get treated, get cured.”
Here’s some of what’s planned around the country:
- The Central Auckland Needle Exchange is raising awareness of hepatitis C with a promotion at their central Auckland site.
- An awareness display, along with a point-of-care testing event has been planned at Auckland City Hospital.
Community-focused testing campaigns have been planned by a range of community testing providers, including pharmacies and Māori providers across the region
Te Manawa Taki Region:
- There will be a nurse-led hepatitis C pop-up clinic at Garden Place in Hamilton, and using a modified van that has been specifically set up to provide a range of community-based services and deliver services closer to the person home.
- Community Pharmacies and some Māori Health Providers have been invited to submit Hepatitis C displays or videos to win the best display
- Promotion via the Public health bulletin
- GP mail-out set promoting hepatitis C week and a reminder for general practice to check they have offered treatment to people with hep C
- Needle Exchange will be providing hepatitis C testing during the week with a koha pack for everyone who has a test
- There will be free hepatitis C testing at the Napier Needle Exchange and at a Strathmore community event.
- A GP mail-out will promote testing and treatment and, as in the Northern Region, a competition is in place so the pharmacy that undertakes the most tests over this period wins morning tea for staff.
South Island Region:
- A mobile service will be offering point-of-care testing at Richmond Mall Carpark between 9am and 3pm. The region is also highlighting the recent roll-out of GeneXpert machines which can provide a definitive viral load result in an hour from a finger prick sample. These machines are portable so sample collection and testing can be undertaken in community settings rather than in pathology laboratories.