Call for hepatitis B national screening

Thousands of Australians developing serious liver complications from untreated hepatitis B could have their lives transformed if robust screening and follow-up – which is showing early signs of success in the Northern Territory – was rolled out nationally, according to Hepatitis Australia.

Led by the Menzies School of Health Research, the NT program has provided information about hepatitis B in local indigenous languages for the first time through The Hep B Story app. The program also includes healthcare professionals visiting remote communities to provide a “one-stop liver shop” and documenting the hepatitis B status of the population.

Recently awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council partnership grant, the Menzies School of Health Research is collaborating with the NT Department of Health, Miwatj Health Aboriginal Corporation, the Katherine West Health Board, the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine, and the Northern Territory AIDS & Hepatitis Council to translate The Hep B Story app into 10 more Aboriginal languages and to ensure more people receive vital care for hepatitis B.

Presenting at the 11th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference in Adelaide this week, Dr Jane Davies said the NT’s approach to care for hepatitis B meant the “amazing progress we have made to identify, engage, monitor and treat people with hepatitis B will not be lost over time”.

“Engaging people with appropriate information about hepatitis B is absolutely critical,” she said. “In a separate pilot project in Arnhem Land, we are systematically documenting everyone’s hepatitis B status and providing follow-up care so that no one is left behind.”

Hepatitis Australia CEO Helen Tyrrell says the NT program is a “fantastic example of how hepatitis B treatment can be transformed with the right interventions”.

She says the hepatitis community is hopeful that a cure for hepatitis B will become available in the next decade, but in the meantime “ongoing investment across Australia is vital to provide integrated and culturally appropriate education and testing combined with robust monitoring and timely treatment to prevent thousands of Australians developing life-threatening complications”.

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