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"It’s time for action on Hepatitis C in New Zealand
Thursday, 30 July 2015, 5:01 pm
Press Release: Joint Media Statement
“It’s time for action on Hepatitis C in New Zealand”– Hepatitis C can be eliminated.
Chronic Hepatitis C is a significant viral infectious disease which carries serious long-term implications for health. 50,000 people in New Zealand are living with chronic Hepatitis C,  of whom up to 30,000 may not know that they have it.  Symptoms are often non-specific, and many people are not tested until they develop serious consequences.  For those who live with chronic Hepatitis C infection, there is reduced quality of life and ongoing stigma for them and their families/whanau.
Every year in New Zealand, 1000 people contract Hepatitis C. Since 2000, the numbers of people with severe liver scarring (cirrhosis) caused by Hepatitis C have doubled. This is because people with Hepatitis C are an ageing group, with low rates of diagnosis and very low treatment uptake (<1% per annum). Hepatitis C is now New Zealand’s leading cause of liver transplants, due to liver cancer or complications of cirrhosis, and one driver of the projected increase in deaths from liver cancer. In 2014, approximately 140 New Zealanders died prematurely from consequences of the Hepatitis C virus, and by 2030 this number is expected to climb to 350.
If the current low rates of diagnosis, assessment, and treatment are not dramatically improved, three times as many people are predicted to present with life-threatening complications of liver failure and liver cancer caused by Hepatitis C over the next two decades.  This increase would continue to reduce people’s quality and length of life, and also increase costs to New Zealand’s health system. Recent advances in treatments, diagnostic technologies, and methods for assessing the stage of disease, together with lessons learnt from recent pilot projects, suggest that an opportunity now exists to eliminate Hepatitis C in New Zealand by 2030. Modeling shows that changing treatment strategies as soon as new treatments are available could substantially reduce morbidity and mortality, and that Hepatitis C could even be eliminated from New Zealand. These strategies could also result in significant savings to the New Zealand health system, by avoiding direct and indirect costs. Delay in access to new therapies would have a tangible impact, resulting in more than 200 preventable deaths every year.