by Robin Osborne, Editor
Hepatitis may not be a matter for celebration but a high note was struck in the Northern Rivers at the start of NSW Hepatitis Awareness Week (21-18 July) with the opening of a new Liver Clinic in Lismore.
Servicing an area with the third highest hepatitis C rate in the state, the clinic is an expansion of the existing service. It operates under the banner of the HIV and Related Programs (HARP), managed by the Northern NSW Local Health District.
HARP Manager, Jenny Heslop, said, “New and effective treatments are available across many centres on the North Coast, but treatment uptake rates are very low. Hepatitis C can be treated, and in many cases cured, allowing people to live healthy, virus free lives.
“Public health strategies such as blood donor screening, Hep B vaccinations, Health Promotion programs and the well utilised Needle Syringe Program have contributed to significantly minimising the rates of transmission.
“But we still have a long way to go to get on top of this issue.”
Several clients made moving addresses to the gathering, including local artist Luke Close, who likened his image of Wollumbin (the majestic Mt Warning), supposedly sighted by Capt. Cook) as “resting in the heart of the Northern Rivers, in the same way that the liver is central to the functioning of our body.”
Statistics - often regarded as estimates at best - show more than 226,000 people in Australia are living with chronic hepatitis C, and 170,000 people with chronic hepatitis B.
In fact, many people may not know they are infected with hepatitis C virus: symptoms rarely occur at the time of contracting the disease.
The ongoing impacts of chronic hepatitis C are serious, with about 20 per cent of patients developing cirrhosis within 10 to 20 years of the onset of infection. Stuart Loveday, CEO Hepatitis NSW, officially opened the new Clinic, saying, “A cure is now possible for the overwhelming majority of people with hepatitis C. With the listing of new treatments on the PBS in April, almost all people in Australia living with hepatitis C have cure rates of around 75 per cent to 80 per cent.
“Now is the right time for people who may have been living with hepatitis C for years, or even decades, to visit their doctor to get a referral to have their liver health assessed.
“This will help them decide whether they should go onto treatment sooner rather than later.”
Ms Heslop added, “We urge all people who inject drugs to get tested at least annually and to access the free and confidential services provided by the Needle and Syringe Program to reduce the risk of transmission of Hepatitis B, C and other blood borne viruses such as HIV”.
The Lismore Liver Clinic can be contacted on (02) 6620 7539. Free and confidential information is available from NSW Hepatitis Helpline 1800 803 990/ 1300 437 222 or http://www.hep.org.au