June 5, 2012
The number of Australian injecting drug users with hepatitis C virus could be reduced by half if IDUs were included in treatment programs, according to health experts. Researchers from the Melbourne-based Burnet Institute also contend that reducing HCV among IDUs could likewise decrease infection within the general population.
Some 220,000 Australians live with chronic HCV infection. IDUs are among the most at-risk but also are the least-treated. HCV among IDUs could be halved in 30 years if just 625 users were treated annually, according to an article published Monday in the Medical Journal of Australia.
Margaret Hellard, head of Burnet's Center for Population Health, said Australia's IDU population is concentrated in Melbourne, Sydney, and Queensland. However, she said, "It would be reasonable to say, if we similarly increased access to treatment in other jurisdictions, it would have a similar benefit."
Hellard advocates governmental funding of grassroots-level services such as primary care and community clinics, drug treatment centers, and prisons affording IDUs better access to treatment. She points to drug advancements on the horizon that would decrease the duration and side effects of current HCV treatment, and ultimately prevalence of the virus.
Gregory Dore, from the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute, wrote in the same journal that new direct-acting antiviral therapies may cure 90 percent of HCV cases before 2020.
"The broad implementation of such therapeutic regimens has the potential to produce one of the major turnarounds in disease burden seen in public health and clinical medicine," said Dore.