A note of caution amidst a ‘revolution’ in hepatitis C treatment

Credit: University of New South Wales

As new treatments for hepatitis C reshape the landscape, new data from UNSW underscore the need to address issues including discrimination, stigma and engaging marginalised communities.

Tens of thousands of Australians have been cured of Hepatitis C since new treatments were made universally available last year, and a report released last month said Australia is on track to eliminate C by 2026.

But while new treatments continue to dramatically reshape the landscape, data from the Centre for Social Research in Health’s (CSRH) Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour 2017: Viral Hepatitis in Australia underscores the need for caution.

Addressing stigma in healthcare settings, engaging marginalised communities in prevention, and continuing to trial innovative models of care will all be imperative if the ‘new era’ of treatment is to fulfil its promise, the report says.

It also notes the challenges of dealing with hepatitis B: about one third of people living with the disease are yet to be diagnosed and only 6% have been treated.

The report was presented on 10 August at the Australasian Viral Hepatitis Elimination Conference (AVHEC) in Cairns.

The Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour presents data from a selection of the behavioural and social research conducted by the CSRH. It is designed to inform prevention, diagnosis and treatment by critiquing and questioning the assumptions that sometimes underlie research, policy and practice around viral hepatitis.

Key issues in the 2017 report on viral hepatitis include:

  • The need to continually innovate harm reduction programs in ways that reflect how transmission happens in the everyday
  • Exploring best models of care for affected communities
  • The impact of stigma on the capacity of affected communities to navigate treatment systems
  • Understanding and preventing hepatitis C transmission within heterosexual couples
  • Examining strategies beyond equipment distribution
  • Gaps in the way that hepatitis C prevention sector understands and addresses risk

Lead author Dr Joanne Bryant, Senior Research Fellow at the CSRH, said the report particularly highlighted the challenges of testing, diagnosis and care of Aboriginal people with hepatitis C.

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