A “VERY large infected and undiagnosed population” of Australians continues to create an epidemic of hepatitis C, with the Howard Government’s strategy making little or no progress in curbing the disease, a confidential report has warned.
A “VERY large infected and undiagnosed population” of Australians continues to create an epidemic of hepatitis C, with the Howard Government’s strategy making little or no progress in curbing the disease, a confidential report has warned.Up to 836,000 people may be infected with hepatitis C by 2020, according to the latest figures provided to the peak body advising federal Health Minister Kay Patterson.The latest report – obtained by The Australian and labelled “not for public release” – was conducted by the lead review team investigating the Government’s HIV and hepatitis C strategies. It follows other critical specialist reports into each of the strategies, also reported by The Australian.Despite warning by experts that the epidemic should be treated as an “urgent national public health problem”, Senator Patterson has yet to issue the Government’s response to the review of the national hepatitis C strategy, which began in April 2002.A key report to the federal Government last October by the three experts from Australia, Canada and Britain said Australia had achieved a world first with its four-year national hepatitis C strategy, which began in 1999.”But the available evidence suggests that the strategy has had little or no progress in controlling the epidemic,” the report says.”Moreover, the strategy inadequately recognises that a very large and undiagnosed population continues to fuel the epidemic.”Labor senator Jan McLucas yesterday stepped up the pressure on Senator Patterson in parliament over the issue and was refused leave to table the hepatitis C report.Senator Patterson said earlier she was concerned about the magnitude of hepatitis C in Australia, while her spokesman said the minister would issue a formal government response “reasonably soon”.”The issues raised in the reviews are complex,” the spokesman said. “To ensure that the most effective outcome is achieved, the minister has been consulting with her ministerial colleagues to prepare a formal Australian government response.”Medical researchers are using new drugs to cure hepatitis C, with the epidemic leaving the federal Government facing potentially massive costs to the health budget.The report identifies a lack of funding, ignorance among health professionals, discrimination in the healthcare system and workplace and problems with accessing treatment, with only 7 per cent of those infected receiving treatment.The federal Government’s anti-hepatitis C strategy is also criticised in a “draft-in-confidence” report from the Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases, obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.The report warns that funding for hepatitis C has “not been adequate” to support the implementation of the National Hepatitis C Strategy.The NSW Health Department submission to the commonwealth review, also obtained under FOI legislation, notes a “lack of national leadership and funding”.(Source: The Australian, By Megan Saunders and Michael McKinnon, August 22, 2003)