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New integrated service aims to cure Hepatitis C in the Midland health region

by Jo de Lisle | Nov 21, 2016

21 November 2016

New wonder drugs achieving 90%+ cure rates in hepatitis C are now available to people living in the Midland health region supported, from 1 January 2017, by a region-wide integrated service.

Funding for two Direct Acting Antiviral pharmaceuticals was approved by Pharmac in May 2016 and HealthShare (the regional shared services agency of the Midland DHBs) today announced a new integrated service which will see the drugs and treatment available to people across the region.

Hepatitis C (HCV) is a virus spread through blood-to-blood contact. The infection leads to inflammation of the liver. There is currently no vaccine to prevent HCV infection, however the discovery of Direct Action Antiviral pharmaceuticals is seeing a cure in more than 90% of the eligible people receiving treatment.

HealthShare CEO, Andrew Campbell-Stokes said the drugs’ discovery and availability is an important and exciting development for patients with the disease and for general practice.

“Hepatitis C services are currently provided by the Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand across the Midland region and this service will remain until 31 December 2016.

“From 1 January 2017 a regionally coordinated hepatitis C service within a pathway of care will be available across the five Midland DHBs providing seamless services across primary, secondary and clinical care.” 

Andrew Campbell-Stokes said the new service will integrate a range of support services for people affected or suspected of carrying Hepatitis C from first diagnosis through to a liver elastography scan, such as a Fibroscan, lifestyle education and possible treatment.

Currently each of these services is available to people across the region but the new service will integrate them so the transition from one to the other is seamless and delivered in local communities with GPs as the lead carer.

The Waikato DHB was today named as the provider of the new integrated Hepatitis C service and Dr. Frank Weilert (Gastroenterologist and spokesperson for Waikato DHB) said the Waikato DHB will coordinate the current services provided to the Bay of Plenty, Lakes, Tairāwhiti, Taranaki and Waikato regions.

“The new integrated service will see Waikato DHB partner with the Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand to utilize a mobile scanner and deliver a localized service around the region.”

Dr. Weilert said people will be identified through community providers and encouraged to enroll with a general practice which will then refer them into a Midland regional coordinating centre, based at Waikato Regional Hospital, for triaging.

“The new coordinating centre will remove access barriers and disparities making it easier for more people to access the new service.

“The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand will provide a mobile service to enable clinics in the Bay of Plenty (eg. Whakatane, Tauranga), Tairāwhiti (Gisborne), Taranaki (New Plymouth), Lakes (eg Rotorua and Taupo) as well as for more rural areas in Waikato (eg Taumarunui, Tokoroa and Thames districts). The frequency of clinics will depend on the number of patients and those requiring faster access to treatment can be referred to Waikato Hospital. Waikato currently has a fixed (not mobile) Fibroscan, so Waikato patients living close to Hamilton will be able to access Waikato Hospital for their assessment and treatment.

“Once assessment and education has occurred the patient, if eligible, will be referred to the appropriate DHB or general practice for the new drug treatments.

The new integrated service will be free.

Dr Weilert said how people contracted Hepatitis C is not important. “What is important is that if you think you meet some of the risk factors, you need to contact your general practice or community provider to get tested.”

Hepatitis C facts

Around 50,000 people have chronic hepatitis C in New Zealand with only 50 per cent aware they have the virus. Between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of those infected with chronic hepatitis C go on to develop chronic liver disease.

  • Acute hepatitis C occurs when a person is infected with the hepatitis C virus for less than six months. Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection which lasts more than six months. Most hepatitis C infections become chronic.

  • The virus causes inflammation of the liver, which affects the way the liver works. The liver is a very important organ which does many tasks essential for life and growth. If left untreated, hepatitis C can result in cirrhosis, which stops the liver working properly. Liver damage can also lead to liver cancer or liver failure.

  • Many people with hepatitis C have no symptoms. It is often referred to as the ‘silent epidemic’ because it’s common for people not to notice any symptoms until 20 or 30 years after infection. However, symptoms that do appear are usually mild and non-specific. The most common symptoms include:

    • Tiredness (fatigue)

    • Joint pain

    • Loss of appetite

    • Nausea

    • Abdominal pain.

  • Hepatitis C is spread through blood-to-blood contact. It is highly infectious and can survive outside the body for more than seven days. Those most at risk of hepatitis C are people who:
  • Have injected drugs (even if only once)
    • Have received a tattoo or body piercing using unsterile equipment

    • Lived or received medical attention in a high-risk country (South East Asia, China, Eastern Europe (including Russia), or the Middle East)

    • Had a blood transfusion or received blood products prior to 1992

    • Have ever been in prison

    • Were born to a mother living with hepatitis C.