Compared to other countries, Australia has good access to health care and treatment for viral hepatitis. Sarah says primary healthcare services need to provide more support to at-risk Australians.
“Many people at risk of getting hepatitis come from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds with limited health literacy and access to health care,” she says. “Australian primary care systems need to strengthen the way that they reach out and provide non-stigmatising preventative and curative care for disadvantaged and marginalised populations who might be at risk.
“In particular, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, rural and remote residents, people with drug and alcohol problems, sex workers, prisoners and refugee groups, all have higher risk factors for hepatitis yet poorer access to care.”
More consideration needed for rural and remote health care
According to Sarah, the Australian viral hepatitis treatment and management guidelines need to be updated to consider rural and remote health care challenges.
“Urban-centric clinical practice guidelines are often developed with no understanding of the geographic, resource and workforce challenges inherent in rural and remote workplaces,” she says. “Consideration of infrastructure and support needs around medication supply chains, and blood collection, transport and testing procedures and appropriate staff education are vital.”
The Australian Federal Government has made the cure for hepatitis C available to all people living with the infectious disease in Australia. The current treatment, a tablet taken daily for two to three months, has fewer side effects than earlier treatments.
“Importantly, this is now available to be prescribed by GPs in primary care at no or minimal cost to the patient,” Sarah says. “This is really important progress to improve the access to treatment to rural, remote and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with Hepatitis C.
“Although more than 70,000 Australians with hepatitis C have commenced treatment to cure hepatitis C since 2016, there is still much more to be done to ensure all at-risk people receive testing, treatment and the hepatitis B vaccination.”
Hepatitis B vaccinations are provided free of charge in Australia under the National Immunisation Program. Sarah says there is no cure for hepatitis B.
“Hepatitis B is preventable by vaccination – a very safe and effective vaccine that is now given to all babies. It is extremely important that all those at high risk of contracting hepatitis B are vaccinated.”
To eliminate hepatitis, Sarah recommends increased health care provider education.
“All General Practitioners and primary healthcare providers need to be educated to think of, test for and provide appropriate treatment for hepatitis,” she says. “Adapting the mechanisms used to raise awareness, identify those at risk and provide culturally acceptable, non-judgmental counselling, testing and treatment is really important.”