Today we’re welcoming the announcement by Joe Fitzpatrick (Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing), setting out the Scottish Government’s commitment to eliminate hepatitis C in Scotland by 2024.
Grant Sugden, Waverley Care Chief Executive responded to the announcement stating:
“It is fantastic to see Scotland embrace the challenge set by World Health Organisation of eliminating hepatitis C as a public health concern. Scotland has an unparalleled, once in a lifetime opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C, thereby transforming the lives of thousands of individuals and families who have been affected by it. It is great to see the plan recognise the role of the NHS and the third sector and, the need to scale up both treatment and support, while improving access to care. Waverley Care looks forward to working with colleagues across the country to achieve elimination, helping Scotland become a world leader tackling hepatitis C.”
Hepatitis C is a virus found in the blood, first discovered in 1989. Hepatitis C is a major cause of liver disease and is often difficult to find. This is because people who are living with hepatitis C often experience few if any symptoms.
If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver damage, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. However, highly effective treatment is now available with minimal side effects. Taken over 8-12 weeks, over 95% of people on treatment for hepatitis C will clear the virus.
It is estimated that 21,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C in Scotland. Of those living with hepatitis C:
In 2018, there were 1,423 new cases of hepatitis C diagnosed in Scotland – around 27 a week. Of those diagnosed, 90% of transmissions routes were through current or previous injecting drug use and were closely linked with deprivation.
It is clear from Scotland’s statistics, that hepatitis C continues to be a significant public health concern. As a result, we are heartened to see the considered work undertaken by the Scottish Government, in partnership with Health Protection Scotland (HPS) and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) in developing a plan to achieve elimination. This means Scotland will meet targets set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) of an 80% reduction in hepatitis C transmission and a 65% reduction in hepatitis C related mortality.
While we welcome today’s announcement, we also reflect on the needs of people living with hepatitis C, based on our experience supporting them to access treatment across Scotland. Often, there are multiple barriers to accessing treatment. These can include poor access to housing, benefits, transport, health services, employment and education. That’s why we provide both emotional and practical support to people living with hepatitis C, helping them better manage their health and access treatment. By providing person-centred support, we help people living with hepatitis C to complete treatment, recover and move on with their lives.
“I am very encouraged by the Scottish Government’s drive to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2024. Highly effective direct-acting antivirals increased testing and specialist outreach clinics have increased treatment initiations across Scotland’s NHS boards. However, there needs to be sustained commitment and long-term investment. Marginalised and vulnerable people who have distrust in health and social care services need support to not only access assessment and treatment but also to continue on their prescribed medication and to prevent disengagement at completion of treatment with a possible risk of re-infection. With Government support and continued and greater collaboration of statutory services and third sector organisations like Waverley Care, people in Scotland currently affected by Hepatitis C can be fully supported to gain the knowledge, skills, tools and confidence to move on in their wider recovery pathway.”
– Christine Sloan, Hepatitis C Support Service Senior Manager
Alongside support, a continued drive to increase testing across Scotland will enable a reduction in the number of people living with hepatitis C in Scotland. With an estimated 15,500 undiagnosed people living with hepatitis C, outreach to communities most affected remains a high priority in our work, while sharing public health messages to prevent new infections.
If you would like more information, testing or support for hepatitis C, you can contact us here.
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