By 2032, the World Health Organisation aims to have eradicated hepatitis C worldwide. In Australia, we are striving for eradication by 2030.

Over five years ago, a direct-acting antivirals cure for hepatitis C was made available and accessible to all Australians. This new treatment has over a 95% success rate, negligible side effects, and can be prescribed by GPs. Despite the vast improvement in treatment methods and accessibility of this new drug, low testing numbers and stigma has prevented many patients from coming forward.

Hepatitis C is spread when blood from a hepatitis C positive person enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. This can be from unregulated tattoos and body piercings, unsafe blood transfusions, or passed from an infected mother to her child during pregnancy. However, one of the most common ways of contracting hepatitis C is through shared intravenous injections, and many patients have experienced prejudice because of this.

A patient’s personal history is not needed to test or treat them. Hepatitis C is no longer a lifelong chronic health condition, and the primary care sector offers the gateway to patients accessing the cure. As one Western Sydney, we must increase hepatitis testing numbers in our region and help Australia move closer to eradicating hepatitis C.

Will Smith is a peer worker for Hepatitis NSW and supports staff from the Westmead Storr Liver Centre to increase community testing. Having lived with hepatitis C for 25 years before receiving treatment, Will has made it his mission to give back to society by encouraging people to get tested and cured sooner.

“A lot of people are hesitant about talking with medical professionals because of the historical stigma around hepatitis. Many people are still scared of getting tested. I’ve been on the same path as them, and my lived experience of hepatitis allows me to break down the barriers between community members and health professionals”.

Will says that being cured has given him a second chance at life and renewed energy. Community members are often scared to come forward for testing out of fear of judgement and a lack of information about new treatment methods. Changing the dialogue around hepatitis and making testing a routine part of pathology examinations is one way to remove these barriers. “If GPs normalise conversations about hepatitis C and normalise testing, more people will get treatment”.

Many people live decades suffering from the symptoms of hepatitis C without coming forward to get tested. This can lead to severe long-term complications such as the development of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Patients need access to accurate information on direct-acting antivirals to dispel their anxieties stemming from old treatment methods. They also need reassurance that they can be tested without discrimination.

Steven Drew, CEO of Hepatitis NSW says, “GPs have a chance to be the heroes. If they can connect the dots between a patient’s symptoms, put aside any pre-conceptions, and get their patients tested respectfully, they have the gift of being able to cure them”.

What can you do?
  • Test patients for hepatitis as part of routine pathology tests (particularly for Aboriginal 715 screenings, 45-49 health checks, 75 Plus Health Checks, and liver function tests)
  • Fight the stigma by providing safe, non-judgemental environments for patients to talk openly about hepatitis
  • Look out for symptoms (fatigue, vomiting, muscle aches, abdominal pain, jaundice)
  • Reassure patients with information on new, safer treatments
  • Make hepatitis testing a quality improvement area for your practice. Practices may focus their quality improvement activities on the specified 10 Improvement Measures. Alternatively, practices may focus their quality improvement activities on any other areas informed by their clinical information system data that meet the needs of their practice population. If the practice data shows that the practice has a large number of high-risk hepatitis patients, then the practice can focus on testing these patients as their PIP QI measure.  
Useful resources:

If you have questions about increasing hepatitis testing and treatment in your practice, contact WentWest’s Practice Facilitator, Sandra d’Arbon: sandra.darbon@wentwest.com.au