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Australia’s Biggest Quiz… be part of this record making event!

Australia’s Biggest Quiz… be part of this record making event!

Australia’s Biggest Quiz… be part of this record making event!Be a part of something special – Australia’s Biggest Quiz! Sign up, create a team with your family, friends and colleagues to help set a new Guinness World Record.

Hepatitis NSW is excited and thrilled to support Hepatitis Australia’s record-breaking attempt – Australia’s Biggest Quiz -which will be held across the country on Wednesday October 26 from 7.00pm AEST.

The quiz is a massive Australian community event to raise awareness of hep C and the availability of an effective and accessible cure. Hepatitis Australia’s innovative and fun initiative aims to find and cure 50,000 people of the virus by 2023. The quiz will spread the word to help towards that goal. Australia could be the first country in the world to eliminate hep C and you could be a part of this historic public health achievement.

Australia’s Biggest Quiz forms part of the Ending Hepatitis C campaign, which is being delivered by Hepatitis Australia and is being funded by the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care as part of a wider program of initiatives designed to form part of Australia’s strategy to end viral hepatitis.

To be part of this history-making, record-breaking attempt to help end hep C in Australia join in the fun on Wednesday 26 October either online, or at one of these four NSW live-event locations:

  • Blacktown
    Blacktown Workers Club | 55 Campbell St, Blacktown
  • Central Coast
    The Entrance Leagues Club | 3 Bay Village Rd, Bateau Bay
  • Dubbo
    The Commercial Hotel | 161 Brisbane St, Dubbo
  • Goulburn
    Goulburn Workers Club | 1 McKell Pl, Goulburn

MORE INFO & FREE REGISTRATION>>> CLICK HERE

Published 18 October, 2022

Originally published in The Champion eNews #111

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Remembering Audrey Lamb – founder of Hepatitis NSW

Remembering Audrey Lamb - founder of Hepatitis NSWAudrey Lamb – the founding President and Life Member of the Hepatitis C Council of NSW (now Hepatitis NSW) – was a true champion of the hepatitis community in Australia. Her wisdom, passion and vision shaped the nature of the hepatitis community sector. Sadly, she passed away on March 6, 2008, following a short and very intense battle with cancer.

Hepatitis Australia interviewed both Audrey (pictured, right) and Professor Geoff Farrell, in 2007, about their friendship and work over the previous 15 years. Their hard and focused efforts in the early 1990s helped pave the way for the establishment of hepatitis councils across Australia. A special friendship grew, based on mutual respect and the shared value of helping others wherever they can.

– – – – –

For many years Audrey had been experiencing tiredness, vague nausea, an irregular bowel, and a poor functioning liver. In September 1990, Audrey was finally diagnosed with “hepatitis C“.

Unaware of exactly what hep C was, Audrey’s situation was made all the worse by the lack of support and knowledge in the medical community. One doctor told Audrey it was a “good thing you have antibodies in your blood – that means you’re now immune to the disease” while another said it was “a very serious disease leading to cirrhosis and possible death through liver cancer”.

With her first grandchild due in December of that year, Audrey was desperate for some basic information on how this virus was transmitted, and how infectious it was, but no information or support was forthcoming. She was told to try and get an appointment to see Dr Farrell who was leading research into the hepatitis virus at that stage.

Dr Geoff Farrell (now, Professor) was working at that time at the Westmead Hospital in Sydney. The two decided that something needed to be done about the inadequate state of hep C information, care and support, and together they were instrumental in creating the first Australian hepatitis C support group.

Along with others, Audrey wrote the first hep C information booklet available in Australia and coordinated a national network of volunteers from the affected communities. She organised a 4,000 signature petition to the NSW Health Minister – delivered in May 1993 – calling for the NSW Government to initiate an antidiscrimination focused community awareness campaign, and for resourcing and support for the tens of thousands of people in NSW already living with the virus.

An information helpline was established, but with no office space, callers were directed to Audrey’s own home, where she stayed up all hours answering calls and providing information. Geoff was always ready to provide the most recent research information and help any way he could – and so was formed a strong friendship.

In the following years as that friendship grew and developed, so did the support groups, until today when hepatitis councils are established in every state and territory providing people with information, education and support services.

Audrey was fittingly honoured during the 2007 Queen’s Birthday celebrations, receiving an Order of the Medal of Australia (OMA) for her public health work on behalf of the communities in Australia affected by hep C. She has been remembered every year since her passing through the Audrey Lamb Community Forum – held in conjunction with the Hepatitis NSW (formerly The Hepatitis C Council of NSW) Annual General Meeting. The Forum presents guest speakers talking to viral hepatitis issues of note within the community.

Professor Farrell became Director of Gastroenterology and Hepatology at The Canberra Hospital, and Professor of Hepatic Medicine at the Australian National University Medical School. He is recently retired.

Hepatitis NSW celebrated its 30th anniversary in December 2021.

Published 6 January, 2022 (originally published 2007)

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Media Release: Hepatitis NSW – 30 Years of Support and Service to the Viral Hep Community

30 Years of Support and Service to the Viral Hep CommunityHepatitis NSW turned 30 on November 21, 2021. To celebrate our inception, growth, and three decades of service and support to communities affected by viral hepatitis, an event was held on December 13, giving the community, our members, supporters, volunteers, partners, and staff – past and present – an opportunity to mark the occasion.

Attended by our founding patron, Professor Geoff Farrell of Westmead Hospital, the evening included congratulatory messages from funders, collaborators, and our familial national, state and territory organisations. There were also several open mic sessions for the sharing of memories, of which there were many.

Initially formed and led by Ms Audrey Lamb (OAM), to provide community information and support for people affected by the hepatitis C virus, we have since grown to also include community appropriate efforts around hepatitis B.

While different from each other, both hep B and hep C are viruses that can cause significant liver damage if not given appropriate treatment. Regardless of the changing testing and treatment landscapes for either virus, we have always worked to educate, support, inform, and advocate – to improve health care access and outcomes for people, and reduce stigma.

Both the Australian and NSW governments have committed to the elimination of hepatitis B and hepatitis C by the end of the decade. It is estimated that approximately 79,500 people are living with hep B and over 46,000 people are living with hep C in NSW.

Our achievements over 30 years include the establishment of a wide range of highly regarded services, programs, collaborations, campaigns, and resources – most notably, our Hepatitis Infoline (1800 803 990), Prisons Infoline, and website (hep.org.au) have been the cornerstones of these efforts. Our Speaker Program – which trains people affected by viral hepatitis to talk publicly of the social, emotional, or medical-related aspects of their experience of living with hep C or hep B – has been another cornerstone of our organisation.

“We stand on the shoulders of the giants who rallied the community; gave it a voice, a face; and created this organisation,” said Hepatitis CEO, Mr Steven Drew. “Those giants are the past leaders of the viral hep community.”

“They stood tall and provided us with the means and drive to make viral hepatitis elimination a potential reality. From them, we can not only learn the lessons of the past but also look to the future and apply what worked so we can best achieve our vision of a world free of viral hepatitis. It is a vision that can become reality in less than a generation.”

Much has been achieved in our thirty years, however much remains to be done before viral hepatitis can be regarded as having been eliminated. It is an ultimately achievable goal, even recognised as possible by both Australian and New South Wales governments.

It is our sincere hope that, by our 40th anniversary, both hep B and hep C are no longer significant community health issues.

You can find out more about how to get involved and help us make a positive change for the future here.

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Sinead Sheils wins 2021 Hepatitis NSW Cheryl Burman Award

Sinead Sheils wins 2021 Hepatitis NSW Cheryl Burman AwardSinead Sheils, a hepatology Nurse Practitioner with Sydney Local Health District, is the recipient of Hepatitis NSW’s 2021 Cheryl Burman Award. The Cheryl Burman Award acknowledges outstanding work or achievements by an individual or team in NSW within the viral hepatitis sector.

The Cheryl Burman Award this year recognises Sinead Sheils for her substantial contribution to improving the quality of life of people living with viral hepatitis.

Sinead’s clinical approach has resulted in great, positives outcomes for all stakeholders, including clients. As a Hepatology Nurse Practitioner at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, she has built workforce capacity and initiated evidence-based best practice.

Central to Sinead’s successes is her passion for working within a social justice and equitable framework. Her passion and commitment for bettering the health outcomes for those most vulnerable has been longstanding.

Sinead’s commitment and contribution to testing and treating hepatitis C exceeds twenty years of nursing service. During this time, she also fulfilled roles as Clinical Nurse Specialist and Clinical Nurse Consultant. In 2015, Sinead completed her Master of Nursing (Nurse Practitioner) at the University of Sydney

Sinead’s collaborative approach to tackling viral hepatitis is well recognised. She has great rapport with clinical, non-clinical and external stakeholders alike; frequently negotiating and adapting her clinical activities, ensuring the greatest outcomes for all stakeholders, including clients.

This approach has been demonstrated, for example, through the roll out of ‘Blood-Borne Virus (BBV) Blitzes’. The Blitz model provides opportunistic HIV, hep B, and hep C testing to the most vulnerable using an outreach capacity as a way of mitigating many of the challenges experienced by those wanting to access testing.

Other benefits include building rapport in a setting that is familiar and safe to the community; eliminating concerns regarding stigma and privacy experienced when accessing conventional health services.

The model is holistic, offering peer engagement, health promotion, testing and, if required, treatment initiation. As a Nurse Practitioner, Sinead is well placed to dispense treatment on-site, further promoting accessibility and acceptability. Anecdotally, those clients who have successfully completed their treatment through this process, have reported that accessibility to dispensing via outreach was instrumental to not just their completion of treatment but also in being cured of hepatitis C.

Mr Drew said, “Hepatitis NSW congratulates Sinead. By any measure, she is a very worthy recipient of this prestigious award, demonstrating strong leadership and initiative in the sector. Sinead joins a growing list of leaders and champions of the NSW viral hepatitis community very much in the mould of Cheryl herself.”

Published 25 November, 2021

For a list of previous Chery Burman Award Recipients >>>CLICK HERE

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New report shows sustained investment is needed to eliminate hep C by 2030

New report shows sustained investment is needed to eliminate hep C by 2030A new national report released in October by the Burnett Institute and Kirby Institute has highlighted a decline in hep C testing and treatment uptake. The report – Australia’s progress towards hepatitis C elimination 2021 – notes that, although there has been some good progress in earlier years, the current trend puts Australia at risk of not achieving its target of eliminating hep C as a “public health threat” by 2030.

Declines in hep C testing and treatment in 2020

There was a decline in testing, in 2020, for both hep C antibody and for RNA testing (used to detect current infections).

The report adds that the same trend has been observed for the uptake of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment for hep C. Unfortunately, 2020 was the first year since the start of the DAA program where less than 10,000 people were treated. Critically, COVID-19 is likely to have impacted both testing and treatment uptake. It is a impact that can expected to feature in testing and treatment rates in 2021 also.

Since DAA treatments were introduced in 2016, close to half of the people living with hep C at that time have now been treated. However nearly 120,000 Australians still need treatment. There is an urgent need to engage with this group who have not accessed treatments and some of whom may not know they have the virus.

Innovation and engagement required to reverse trend

There is a need to find additional innovative ways to engage with communities, and to look at how we help those who have hep C – undiagnosed and diagnosed – to get care. This includes simplifying access to treatment, addressing stigma and discrimination and extending the use of peer workers to better reach priority groups.

The report’s findings highlight the need for immediate and sustained investment in community, education, and clinical programs to increase hep C awareness, testing and treatment. Modelling outlined in the report shows these type of investments would be highly cost-effective in the long-term.

Huge net economic benefits to be made from investments

Maintaining the same testing and treatment rates from the last five years up to 2030 would help prevent 15,700 new infections and 8,500 deaths over 2016–2030. Economic modelling in the report indicates current investments would become cost-saving by 2022 and go on to have a net economic benefit of $5.7 billion by 2030.

However, scaling-up testing and treatment is required to reach hep C elimination targets by 2030. It would also avert an additional 10,000 new infections, increasing the net economic benefit at 2030 by a further $272 million.

Person-centred and community-focused approach is critical

With strategic investment and concerted effort Australia can eliminate hep C by 2030. Centring on people impacted by hep C will be critical to this achievement. A comprehensive response is needed including prevention, harm reduction, testing, diagnosis, treatment, and post-cure support.

Australia has a once in a generation opportunity to eliminate a disease that is a leading cause of liver cancer. We must ensure that no one is left behind in achieving the goals of the National Hepatitis C Strategy.

  • Read Australia’s progress towards hepatitis C elimination >>>CLICK HERE
  • Read original Burnett Institute media release >>>CLICK HERE

Learn More About Hep C

Want to find out more about hep C? We’re here with loads of resources to help you make the best health choices for you. Our hepatitis C FAQs aim to quickly answer the most commonly asked hep C questions. You might have had hep C for several years, or you might have been diagnosed with hep C recently. In any case, our hep C FAQs are for you.

You can also call the free Hepatitis Infoline to speak to someone who knows a lot about hep C, and who can help you decide what’s best for you and your health. Call 1800 803 990 today.

Published 15 November, 2021
Originally published in The Champion eNews #101

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Dried Blood Spot (DBS) Testing to be available through Hepatitis NSW

DBS Testing to be available through Hepatitis NSWHepatitis NSW is excited to announce we have been approved to offer Dried Blood Spot (DBS) testing in partnership with Sydney Local Health District (SLHD), the Network of Alcohol and Drug Agencies (NADA) and the Community Restorative Centre (CRC).

What is DBS?

The DBS test is a free, easy, private, and accurate way to test for hepatitis C and/or HIV. The test works by putting a few drops of blood from a person’s finger on a testing card, leaving it to dry, then sending it to a Sydney laboratory for analysis. A nurse from Sexual Health Infolink, or the health service where the person did the test, will give their results, by phone, text, or email, and talk about the next steps.

  • Watch video on how to do a DBS test >>>CLICK HERE
  • More information/order a DBS home test kit >>>CLICK HERE
  • Read/order Tx! MAG #38 (the DBS issue!) >>>CLICK HERE

People can test privately in their own home, or at a community service, rather than in a clinic, and don’t need to have blood drawn from a vein. The hep C test is for HCV-RNA (also called PCR), meaning it shows if a current infection is present. DBS can be used to check that treatment has worked, or if reinfection has occurred.

Who is DBS for?

The DBS hep C test is for anyone who:

  • has ever injected a drug;
  • has ever been in prison or attended a community corrections service;
  • identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander;
  • has ever attended a drug and alcohol service or mental health service;
  • has experienced homelessness; or
  • is anyone from countries where hep C is more common

You also must be over 16 years of age and living in NSW.

How will Hepatitis NSW offer DBS?

Hepatitis NSW, Sydney LHD, NADA and CRC are collaborating to build sector capacity, to provide hep C testing using DBS, and to increase health care access in the community.

CRC case workers support people with complex needs to transition from the criminal justice system back to the community. Hepatitis NSW staff will work with CRC case workers on face-to-face client visits, and offer hep C information, DBS testing, and peer support. This will reduce barriers to healthcare, aided by the support of each client’s familiar case worker.

Hepatitis NSW will also offer DBS tests at health promotion and health education events, and in settings where Local Health District staff are unable to offer hep C testing.

NADA will invite their member organisations to collaborate with Hepatitis NSW – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services – to increase hep C testing, treatment, and other steps toward eliminating hep C.

Published 16 September, 2021
Originally published in The Champion eNews #99

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Free smart phone app for people about to start hep C treatment

Free smart phone app for people about to start hep C treatmentThe Hepatitis NSW Hep Connect program helps people living with hep C with everything from testing to treatment to cure.

The Perx Health smart phone app can help you remember to take your medication on a daily basis, as well as remind you to do other important health tasks like attending appointments and picking up prescriptions. The app features games, community connection, education, and some exciting challenges. And there are rewards!

If you are about to start hep C treatment, please think about downloading the app and join us for free.

“What a great tool to keep our patients on track! Great initiative. Simple and easy.”
Nurse Prescriber, WSLHD

We would love to have you on board. There are no restrictions on who can get supported.

It is simple to join!

  • The app is completely free and takes less than a minute to download.
  • Simply click on the survey link, answer the four basic eligibility questions, and you’re in!
  • the only prerequisites for participation are a smartphone and an email address.

Features of the Perx Health app

  • The Perx Health app contains no advertising, and no data is shared with third parties.
  • Consistent disclosure and consent to privacy in accordance with NSW Health guidelines.
  • App users are greeted with automated welcome emails and SMS messages.
  • Reward-based – offer vouchers in exchange for medication adherence and appointment attendance.
  • App users can contribute by filling out our feedback surveys.
  • Are if you’re out of data the app will continue to function for a month.

Want to come onboard? To start the survey >>>CLICK HERE

“Thank you so much from the deepest depth of my heart for your help. I got my SVR results today – I am now hep C free. Thank you and your organisation! I could not have done it without your support and will recommend it to anyone.”
Tony, Hep Connect client, 27 July 2020

If you would like to know more about the Hep Connect Perx program, please contact:

Susanne Wilkinson, Project Officer
email: swilkinson@hep.org.au

Published 9 August, 2021

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Media Release: Despite COVID, hepatitis can’t wait this World Hepatitis Day

Understanding hepatitis B - part 1Wednesday, 28 July marks World Hepatitis Day 2021, an important opportunity to give visibility to, and raise awareness of viral hepatitis, as well to drive better outcomes for people affected by viral hepatitis.

This year’s theme is “Hepatitis can’t wait”, conveying the urgency of efforts needed to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. Even in the current COVID-19 crisis, we can’t wait to act on viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis doesn’t care about other health crises. Left unchecked both hep B and hep C will continue to find new people to infect and continue to damage the livers of those already living with the viruses.

The good news is that recent changes to Medicare means Australians can have access to management, care and treatment of hep B or treatment and cure of hep C from the comfort, privacy and safety of their own home using telehealth. Even testing for hep C can be done at home using a free Dried Blood Spot (DBS) test kit ordered from dbstest.helath.nsw.gov.au

Hepatitis NSW CEO, Mr Steven Drew said, “Advances have been made in Australia and New South Wales on many fronts for both hep B and hep C. While much has been achieved through the combined and concerted efforts of community health organisations, clinicians, health departments, and researchers, we all agree that there is still much to be done to meet elimination targets in this country.”

In NSW, World Hepatitis Day falls within Hepatitis Awareness Week which runs 26-31 July. The week includes a range of local and state-wide activities, events, and initiatives to improve population outcomes for both hep B and hep C.

Mr Drew said, “A key activity this year is the roll out of HEP CURED, a campaign using simple messaging and strong imagery to promote the availability and effectiveness of cures for hepatitis C. The core message of the campaign instils a sense of connection with loved ones, or significant others.”

Three key posters were designed based on research showing the importance of “connection to others” as motivations to seek cure. The posters serve as conversation starters that lead to engagement around hepatitis C testing and treatment.

HEP CURED utilises posters in clinics and services, advertising in shopping centres and washrooms, laneway and regional billboard advertising, railway billboards, and selected bus shelters and street furniture.

Hepatitis NSW is also running a separate social media initiative featuring ten video and display adverts across Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Google. Each advertisement – be it about hep B, hep C, or liver health – links to relevant pages on the Hepatitis NSW website, providing information and resources on testing and treatment. This initiative aims to support the ongoing push to eliminate viral hepatitis.

Included in the initiative are videos featuring some of our many amazing and inspiring lived experience speakers. These people bravely share their own very personal stories and perspectives on life with hep B or hep C, and what management or cure, respectively, means to them.
Mr Drew said, “These stories are a powerful reminder that while we focus on the disease, at the heart of all we do and what we want to achieve, are real people. People with hopes, dreams, families, friends, and a desire to get the most out of life.

“I encourage people to contact the Hepatitis NSW Infoline on 1800 803 990 for more information about the treatment options available or hepatitis generally. You can also contact us using our online chat function on our website,” said Mr Drew.

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

Published 28 July, 2021

General information about hep B and hep C

Tens of thousands of people in NSW are living with viral hepatitis. Both hep B and hep C are viruses that can, without appropriate medical intervention, become life-long chronic conditions, eventually leading to liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and sadly, all too often, death. A significant percentage of people living with hep B or hep C are unaware they have it. Even where people know their status, many thousands experience barriers to access healthcare, treatment, or cure – this must change.

With hepatitis B, while there is currently no cure for this virus, babies born in Australia are vaccinated against it. Any adult who needs to be vaccinated can be. Testing is available, and encouraged, for anyone from an at-risk group. Should a person be found to be living with hep B, regular monitoring of their liver health is strongly recommended, and, if required, treatment can be prescribed to manage their viral load and prevent the onset of liver disease.

For hepatitis C, all Australians over the age of 12 have access to effective and affordable Direct Acting Antiviral (DAA) cures. This year marks the fifth anniversary of DAAs being made widely available in Australia through Medicare. Since 2016, more than 75,000 Australians have been cured of hepatitis C. It is no exaggeration to say that being cured of hep C can improve quality of life – many people who have finished their course of treatment report feeling greater levels of energy and alertness.

Hep C medications have a cure rate of 95 per cent. They can be prescribed by any general practitioner, or authorised nurse practitioners. Cure is usually achieved within 8 or 12 weeks, with minimal or no side-effects.

“These oral pill treatments have offered a revolutionary opportunity,” said Mr Drew. “It is important that people see their health professional to be treated and get their best life back. While hepatitis C initially has almost no symptoms, if left untreated it can ultimately result in significant liver disease.”

Testing for hep C is simple and as easy as getting your GP to do a blood test. Should someone learn they have hep C, they should seriously consider commencing treatment and get cured.

“It is not often we get the chance to eliminate a chronic disease, but we have that opportunity now with hep C,” said Mr Drew. “I encourage anyone who hasn’t yet sought out this medication to explore their treatment options,” adding that Hepatitis NSW could provide information and support to anyone living with, or affected by hepatitis including family and friends of people living with hepatitis C.

 

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Media Release: Great achievements after five years of hepatitis C elimination – but more work needed

Media Release: Great achievements after five years of hepatitis C elimination – but more work neededMonday March 1st marks the five-year anniversary of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme listing of new, affordable, highly effective treatments for hepatitis C. Direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) that cure hepatitis C were made broadly available to all eligible Australians.

With the groundbreaking hep C treatment, we are closer to our goals

Steven Drew, Hepatitis NSW CEO, said, “Thanks to those groundbreaking medications, elimination of hepatitis C has become an achievable goal, in line with Australian and NSW Government commitments. We are within reach of achieving elimination of hep C by 2030.”

Mr Drew continued, “However, elimination will require the ongoing combined efforts of government, the health sector, and community to be fully realised.”

So far, an estimated 30,200 people in New South Wales have started treatment for, and been cured of, hepatitis C since 2016. This represents a saving to the NSW Health Care System of over $93.6m.

Of treatment initiations since March 2016, 1,514 were accessed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people under the Closing the Gap scheme. Many more Indigenous Australians have accessed treatment through medical specialists, GPs, and health service providers outside of the Closing the Gap scheme.

The hep C DAA medications, which have a cure rate of 95 per cent, can be prescribed by medical specialists, general practitioners, and nurse practitioners. Cure is achieved within 8 or 12 weeks, with minimal or no side-effects. It is important that people are tested and treated; while hepatitis C initially has almost no symptoms, if left untreated it can ultimately result in significant liver disease and possibly death.

The new hep C treatments have been improved

Susan Hawkeswood lived with hepatitis C for over twenty years before being diagnosed with the virus in the early 2010s. “Interferon was the only treatment available then, it was not very effective and had many unpleasant, often debilitating, side-effects and I chose not to use it.”

“Fortunately, the new direct acting antivirals came along before my liver was damaged by the virus. I had no side effects from the DAA treatment and was cured in just three months,” said Susan. “While living with hepatitis C I often felt exhausted, but with cure my energy has returned.”

It is essential to continue promoting these groundbreaking cures

Mr Drew said, “While these many successes are a great achievement for our community, there are still tens of thousands across the state that are yet to seek treatment and cure, and treatment uptake is now declining.”

“It is essential to reinvigorate promotion of these ground-breaking cures to a broad audience, and to ensure that all people in New South Wales can live their best life, free from hepatitis C,” said Mr Drew. “With that in mind, it is very concerning that new legislation being considered and supported by both the NSW Government and Opposition could significantly undermine those efforts.”

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

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Media Release: NSW’s Mandatory Disease Testing Bill ill-conceived and flawed

Media Release: NSW’s Mandatory Disease Testing Bill ill-conceived and flawedSpeaking at a NSW Legislative Committee Inquiry into the Mandatory Disease Testing Bill 2020, on Thursday 11 February, Hepatitis NSW restated our concerns related to this ill-conceived and flawed legislation.

Hepatitis NSW CEO Steven Drew said, “Hepatitis NSW absolutely supports frontline health and emergency services workers. We collaborate with many of them every day through our work. They should not be subjected to unnecessary threats or risk as they go about their job and it is abhorrent that attacks do occur that create health related stress and concern.”

“Frontline workers must be informed and educated in advance, and reassured by experts that, based on science and evidence, the likelihood of the transmission of a blood-borne virus as the result of spitting or skin contact with blood is non-existent,” said Mr Drew. On this basis, the inclusion of saliva within the definition of ‘body fluids’ which can be used to seek a mandatory testing order in the Bill is redundant and raises questions as to the real purpose of this legislation.

“We are part of a concerted effort by the community, government, and health sectors to eliminate both hepatitis B and hepatitis C in New South Wales by 2028,” said Mr Drew. “Efforts to date have resulted in the hard won ongoing decline in prevalence of hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Both viruses now present a numerically small and ever diminishing health risk in NSW.”

“There is an effective cure for hepatitis C and a vaccination for hepatitis B. This means the fear and worry, which this legislation validates, is unwarranted and not justifiable. Instead, rather than entrench stigma and discrimination, we need scientific, evidence-based information and education to reduce stress and anxiety for frontline workers who are at risk of incidents of exposure. This reflects New South Wales world leading approach and response to public health issues.”

This Bill will make it harder to reach the very people we must still reach to make good on elimination.

Since 2000, a comprehensive hepatitis B vaccination program in NSW means an entire generation of young people are not at, and pose no risk of, infection. Additionally, frontline workers should already be vaccinated against hepatitis B to mitigate occupational health and safety risks of blood borne virus transmission.

Furthermore, an effective cure for hepatitis C is universally available through the PBS, including for young people aged 12 and above. That this Bill applies to young people aged 14 years and above is as unjustifiable as it is abhorrent.

“The importance of protecting and promoting the health, well-being, and mental health of staff, employees, workers and indeed the public is something we all agree on. Workplaces have an obligation to do everything possible to protect staff from injury and harm while carrying out their duties. Although the rationale for this Bill is to protect and promote the health and well-being of frontline workers we already, in fact, have the tools to do so.”

The current system already places the health and safety of the worker at the centre of risk assessment and prevention. It prioritises evidence-based assessment, treatment, and care. In the event of an incident, focus should always be placed on access to immediate assessment of risk by a qualified health practitioner, counselling, and support to the person. This support would see the commencement of any recommended aftercare, including post-exposure prophylaxis.

Mr Drew said, “Requiring an alleged assailant to undertake a blood test, potentially without consent and under duress, does not provide peace of mind. It would be an unnecessary and fallible substitute for the immediate clinical assessment of the affected worker by an expert and appropriate care protocols.”

It is important to state clearly and unambiguously that enacting this Bill will disproportionately and adversely impact an already disadvantaged population, notably street present and marginalised people – specifically Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as people who have substance dependence, gender identity, and mental health issues.

“The Bill will effectively offer no increased peace of mind to frontline workers,” said Mr Drew, “but would instead expose predominantly marginalised individuals to unnecessary and invasive blood testing, potentially inflaming violent behaviour and increasing the risk of injury to both the alleged assailant and the frontline worker.”

  • Download our submission>>> CLICK HERE
  • Read other submissions – NSW Parliament site>>> CLICK HERE

For more information, please contact:

Hepatitis NSW
Steven Drew, CEO
sdrew@hep.org.au
0402 518 285

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