28 Jul 2021

Hepatitis C plan aims to eliminate virus by 2030

11:01 am on 28 July 2021

More free syringes for drug users and a registry is part of a $2.2 million plan to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030, the government has announced.

No caption

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Associate Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced the government's action plan at a mobile pop-up testing clinic in Hamilton this morning, to mark World Hepatitis Day, in line with the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s global hepatitis strategy.

The plan includes:

  • More free syringes and needles for drug users, to prevent the spread of hepatitis
  • Virtual registry and a surveillance system
  • Expansion of nurse-led clinics and mobile clinics
  • Increased testing and treatment
  • A national awareness campaign

The plan would cost $2.2m on top of the $7m already spent annually on the needle exchange programme and hepatitis C assessment and treatment.

The WHO defined elimination as reducing new chronic cases by 90 percent and deaths by 65 percent compared to 2015.

Verrall said hepatitis C was both preventable and curable, but symptoms often did not appear until the damage had already been done.

"Around 45,000 New Zealanders have hepatitis C but only around half know they have it," she said.

"Without treatment, most people will develop progressive liver damage. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in New Zealand, and the second leading cause of liver cancer - behind hepatitis B."

She said many people with the virus were in "our most marginalised communities" and faced barriers to testing and treatment including social stigma.

The direct-acting antiviral drug Maviret, which had been funded since February 2019, had fewer side-effects than previous treatments and could cure up to 98 percent of chronic hepatitis C infections, she said.

"Maviret has been a real game-changer, but funding drugs alone won't achieve elimination. We need to make sure we find everyone who is at risk or has hepatitis C, offer them a test and to treat them."