To celebrate World Hepatitis Day (28 July), Burnet Institute held a virtual symposium, Hep Can’t Wait, to highlight the progress towards hepatitis B and C elimination goals.
Attended by 200 participants, the symposium celebrated the achievements of diverse partnerships and highlighted the ongoing challenges for Australia to reach the World Health Organization’s 2030 elimination targets.
Several presentations focused on the importance of partnerships to tackle the significant public health burden from viral hepatitis, including:
EC Victoria which, through a mix of health promotion, education, clinical support and surveillance strategies, supports 11 primary care services to test nearly 5,000 people who inject drugs (PWID) and treat more than 1,000. It also supports work in 14 prisons to treat almost 3,000 PWID.
Burnet and the Salvation Army‘s Access Health team, who have worked in a mutually beneficial partnership for more than 10 years. Their complementary capabilities resulted in a stronger service for Access Health’s clients through improved clinical knowledge and skill sets, improved client systems and evaluation; and for Burnet, faster implementation of projects, access to research cohorts and on-the-ground experience.
The PATH peer navigation program, which has been supporting PWIDs in Melbourne to access hepatitis C treatment and care. Peer supporters’ deep understanding of this group’s needs and motivations has engendered trust and rapport, and provided hepatitis C education and assistance with clients’ drug-related health issues.
The symposium program also featured:
A research on rapid point-of-care testing in a high-volume medically supervised injection room that successfully engaged PWIDs in care, with 92 per cent of those who were informed of a positive result commencing treatment on the same day. This early delivery of results could prove to be a critical strategy in improving the cascade of care for PWIDs who live with hepatitis C virus.
LiverWell’s HepReady workforce education, which is providing resources to more than 370 participants from 90 organisations. A key outcome evidenced by the program’s evaluation is a reduction in stigma among participants, a key and widely-publicised barrier that hinders testing- and treatment-seeking behaviours.
Looking into the future
There is progress towards viral elimination that needs to be acknowledged. Hepatitis silently progresses, however, which is why Burnet and partners continue to tap into opportunities to reach people, especially at-risk populations.
A priority group requiring strategies to reach and engage is the 40 percent of people living with hepatitis B in Australia who were born overseas (Asia) and acquired the infection at birth or in early childhood.
A study has been published to identify ‘enablers’ that motivate this group to engage in care. Further research is ongoing to explore optimal ways to communicate with this group to enable them to make better health decisions and prevent advanced disease.
This month, Bulgarr Ngaru Medical Aboriginal Corporation, Burnet and the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) joined forces to help address hepatitis C infection among Aboriginal communities in northern New South Wales.
Unique to this partnership is the integration of three components that have been shown to increase access to life-changing hepatitis treatments.
Burnet thanks all the symposium attendees, presenters, supporters and our partners, and wishes everyone an exciting and equally productive year ahead.