Today Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall is launching a national hepatitis C awareness campaign to mark World Hepatitis Day.
“It’s really important we do everything we can to raise awareness of hepatitis C so we can eliminate the virus that approximately 40,000-45,000 New Zealanders live with,” said Dr Ayesha Verrall.
The awareness campaign is part of the National Hepatitis C Action Plan for Aotearoa New Zealand, which was launched a year ago with the goal of eliminating hepatitis C as a major public health threat by 2030.
“We’re calling on Kiwis to ‘Stick it to hep C’ – ‘Werohia te Atekakā C’ – because all it takes to find out whether you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C is a quick and easy finger-prick test.
“Over 200 New Zealanders continue to die each year from hepatitis C even though we now have an easy test and an easy cure. If hepatitis C is left untreated, up to a quarter of cases will develop cirrhosis, which can lead to life-threatening liver cancer or liver failure.
“Every one of these deaths could have been prevented by earlier diagnosis and treatment.
“Gtting tested is a win-win. If you’re negative, you can put your worries behind you right away. And if you do have hepatitis C almost all people can be cured by simply taking a tablet for 8 weeks,” Dr Ayesha Verrall said.
The awareness campaign has been developed carefully in partnership with people who have experience of hepatitis C from across the motu so it reaches as many at-risk people as possible, encourage them to get tested, and ensure they know that the tests are 100 percent confidential.
“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last year in improving access to testing and treatment through regionally tailored and flexible services designed to reach their own communities.
“Mobile pop-up clinics have been visiting community events, marae, probation services and at-risk people in isolated communities, and home visits for those in need.
“We’ve also been taking the opportunity to offer services through the mobile clinics such as mental health and addiction support, heart health and diabetes services, wound packs and hepatitis B checks.
“Work is also well underway through the Action Plan to build a better understanding of the current epidemiology of hepatitis C in New Zealand, including prevalence, higher-incidence locations, and trends. This will help us develop models of care that better target services and allow us to measure the effectiveness of testing strategies, treatment, and wrap-around support services for high-risk populations.
“The national awareness campaign is a vital next step because the key thing we need to do to eliminate hepatitis C as a major health threat is for everyone who is at risk to get tested, even if they haven’t noticed any symptoms.
“There are plenty of places where you can get a hepatitis C finger-prick test – at some pharmacies, Kaupapa Māori health providers and needle exchanges, plus there are mobile services visiting key locations or you can ask your GP or pharmacist where you can get a test
“Visit www.stickittohepc.co.nz to choose where you’d like to get tested and find a site near you, or you can speak to your GP, pharmacist or other health provider to find arrange a test.”