October 10, 2012

New hepatitis C initiative launched in the Bay (New Zealand)

the Hepatitis Foundation Wednesday 10 October 2012, 11:09AM

Media release from the Hepatitis Foundation

The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ), in partnership with the Ministry of Health and the Bay of Plenty DHB, have launched an innovative pilot targeting chronic hepatitis C in the Bay of Plenty. The pilot intends to significantly improve health outcomes and access to care for people living with this disease.

Chronic hepatitis C is the main cause of liver transplantation in New Zealand. Despite the serious nature of the disease, most people know very little about hepatitis C. "Hepatitis C has been ignored for too long," John Hornell, CEO of The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ) said. "Now is the time to confront this disease, to tackle it head on and to win the fight."

Hepatitis C is a global health issue, as recognised by the World Health Organisation. In New Zealand there are approximately 50,000 people living with chronic hepatitis C. Over 75% of these people are unaware they have the disease as many don't experience signs or symptoms for many decades after infection.

"Our integrated hepatitis C pilot aims to increase the number of people diagnosed, assessed and treated for hepatitis C", Kelly Barclay, Hepatitis C Project Manager said. "It will involve a hepatitis nurse delivering specialist care in the community. The goal is to provide those with hepatitis C with better access to testing, care and support where they live. This will help them make lifestyle changes to slow the progression of the disease before they consider treatment."

Over the coming months, The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ) will be working closely with General Practitioners, Specialists and other health providers to enrol those with hepatitis C onto a Community Assessment and Support Programme. The Community Hepatitis C Nurse will provide enrolled patients with an initial FibroScan®assessment (a non-invasive new ultrasound technique to assess the level of liver disease), blood tests, on-going support and education, and will liaise with health providers to centrally manage patients' needs. In the majority of cases, Fibroscan® takes away the need for liver biopsy altogether.

The Bay of Plenty DHB will be backing this pilot across the region. Phil Cammish, CEO for the BOPDHB said, "The innovative approach being introduced with this improved service should make a big difference to the lives of people with hepatitis C. This service will bring together all parts of the health service to address this health need."

Early 2013, a public campaign will be launched to identify people who are at risk or have been at risk of contracting hepatitis C and are currently undiagnosed. "We'll be actively encouraging people to get tested if they are or have been at risk of hepatitis C," Barclay said. "It's important people are diagnosed as early as possible."

Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. The virus causes inflammation of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer if left undiagnosed. Current treatment provides 45-80% chance of cure (depending on the disease strain).

The Hepatitis Foundation (NZ) is a charitable trust promoting positive health outcomes for people living with chronic hepatitis.


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