HEPATITIS C could be eradicated from Australia by 2026, doctors have predicted.

More than 20,000 people have accessed cheaper hepatitis C medication since it was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) in March, making treatment much more affordable.

Hepatitis C is an infectious blood borne virus that attacks the liver, causing inflammation, and may lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), end-stage liver disease, liver cancer and, in some cases, death. It has six different genotypes.

Around a quarter of a million Australians live with hepatitis C, with about 2500 dying annually from it but that mortality figure should reduce dramatically after Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley announced today about 22,500 patients have accessed the revolutionary drugs and 5,000 people have already been cured of the virus.

“The Turnbull Government made the world-first decision to invest over $1 billion subsidising these cures for Hepatitis C on the PBS, no matter the severity of a person’s condition or how they contracted it,” she said.

“And while it’s still early days, it’s already starting to pay off, with better than expected take up rates and some people even now Hep C free just a few months after starting treatment.

“This $1 billion investment… will not only help improve the lives of Australians currently living with Hepatitis C, but will also help improve the health system by reducing rates of preventable liver disease, cirrhosis, failure and cancer that come with this debilitating disease.

“It’s also ensuring Australians have equitable and affordable access to treatments that would otherwise be unattainable for many at upwards of $100,000 on the private market in some cases.”

Hepatitis Australia CEO, Helen Tyrrell said the wave of people who had been treated was “frankly phenomenal” but that Australia must keep up the momentum in order to make the elimination of hepatitis C a reality within a decade in Australia.

“Governments, along with the health and community sector, should be applauded for the record number of people with hepatitis C coming forward for treatment so far, but of course these efforts must be sustained over many years to reach everyone who would benefit,” she said.

“The message for the 230,000 Australians living with hepatitis C is: Ask your doctor about new hepatitis C cures. Don’t miss out. You can be cured in as little as 12 weeks and with far fewer side-effects than previous treatments.

The Department of Health estimated that 62,000 people would be treated with the new antivirals in five years, however if high treatment rates continue, experts believe this goal could be reached by the end of 2017.

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