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World Hepatitis Day

World Hepatitis Day

More than 100 New Zealanders die prematurely each year due to lack of hepatitis B & C diagnosis and treatment

Key points:


·         More than 140,000 New Zealanders are estimated to be suffering from viral hepatitis, but very few receive potentially life extending or life-saving treatment each year

·         The potential cost of not treating viral hepatitis could rise to more than $400 million by 2020 – something experts say is a ‘ticking time bomb’ under the health system

·         Experts are using World Hepatitis Day on Tuesday, 19 May to call for the government and health bodies to take the problem seriously and provide greater resources for education, testing and treatment.

Health experts say more than 100 New Zealanders die prematurely and unnecessarily each year due to low diagnosis and treatment rates for viral hepatitis, a statistic which could cost New Zealand more than $400 million by 2020.
Despite this, New Zealand, like many other countries around the world, continues to perform poorly against key international indicators, including testing, awareness, prevention and treatment.

Associate Professor Ed Gane, hepatologist at Auckland City Hospital, says viral hepatitis is thought to be responsible for more than 75 per cent of liver cancer cases in New Zealand and more than 50 per cent of liver transplants.

“Approximately 140,000 New Zealanders are estimated to be suffering from viral hepatitis, 90,000 caused by hepatitis B and 50,000 by hepatitis C viruses. Chronic viral hepatitis  can lead to progressive scarring of the liver resulting in severe liver damage, including liver failure, cirrhosis of the liver and even liver cancer”.

“Yet, despite the danger, less than a quarter of all viral hepatitis sufferers (fewer than 30,000), have been diagnosed and are aware of treatment options. Fewer than 1500 a year are able to seek treatment each year – poor access to local hepatitis clinics and lack of awareness of the diagnosis are the two main barriers to treatment in New Zealand.”

It is estimated that the number of New Zealanders with chronic viral hepatitis who die from either liver cancer or liver failure will double over the next decade. Dr Gane says in order to prevent this projected increase in the health burden and costs, there needs to be at least a three fold increase in the numbers of New Zealanders who currently receive antiviral therapy.
or this to happen, there needs to be greater public awareness of both the risk factors associated with chronic viral hepatitis and those lifestyle factors associated with disease progression such as alcohol use. There also needs to be greater public and primary care awareness of the availability of effective antiviral therapies. Not treating chronic viral hepatitis will lead to marked increase in the morbidity and costs associated with these conditions.

He hopes that World Hepatitis Day (WHD) on Tuesday 19 May will help raise awareness of these diseases among the New Zealand public and politicians and stimulate increased efforts to prevent, or diagnose and treat the diseases.

John Hornell, chief executive of the Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand says New Zealand measures up poorly against the ‘12 Asks’, a series of key international indicators being promoted as part of WHD*.

“The government needs to start treating viral hepatitis like the serious public health problem it is, and start putting in place programmes and measures to address it. At the moment, there is little or no effort being put into identifying people with viral hepatitis or ensuring they know about the options open to them once they’ve been diagnosed.”

“As a first step, and at the absolute minimum, there should be a national pathway for screening, diagnosis, referral and treatment. Ideally we’d like to see that supported by a national awareness campaign, which encourages those with the highest risk of infection with viral hepatitis to seek testing.”

“Currently, it seems like people with viral hepatitis are being left to fend for themselves, with little or no support from the government or the healthcare system. This needs to change otherwise we could potentially be facing a very expensive and unnecessary public health crisis.”

World Hepatitis Day Tuesday 19th May 2009:


*The 12 Asks:


1.      Public recognition of chronic viral hepatitis as an urgent public health issue

2.      The appointment of an individual to lead government strategy nationally

3.      The development of a patient pathway for screening, diagnosis, referral and treatment

4.      Clear, quantifiable targets for reducing incidence and prevalence

5.      Clear, quantifiable targets for reducing mortality

6.      Clear, quantifiable targets for screening

7.      Excellent surveillance and publication of national incidence and prevalence statistics

8.      Commitment to examine cases of best practice internationally

9.      Commitment to work with patient groups in policy design and implementation

10.  Provision of free and anonymous (or confidential) testing

11.  A public awareness campaign that alerts people to the issues and is committed to reducing stigma

12.  Commitment to an ongoing national vaccination programme.


* Risk factors for hepatitis B and C

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis C

·         Maori, Pacific or Asian ethnicity

·         Born in or travelled to sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the Amazon Basin, the Pacific Islands or the Middle East

·         Unprotected/unsafe sex with more than one partner

·         Exposure to blood through sport or work

·         Family member with hepatitis B

·         Sexual partner with hepatitis B


·         Past or present intravenous drug use

·         Received blood transfusions or blood products prior to the introduction of screening in 1992

·         Born in Egypt, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Cambodia or Vietnam

·         Have body piercing or tattoos

·         Previous time in prison


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