August 23, 2013
The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand has launched a pilot program that would test the effectiveness of a new hepatitis C treatment among patients in the Wellington, Hutt, Wairarapa, and Bay of Plenty District Health Boards. The novel treatment would consist of a daily pill that would cure "all" hepatitis C-infected people, in comparison to the traditional treatment, which consists of weekly injections and daily pills. Wellington Hospital gastroenterologist Dr. Reese Cameron stated that traditional treatment has "nasty" side effects, like depression, and has cured only 50 to 60 percent of hepatitis C infections. If the pilot proves successful, the Hepatitis Foundation plans to expand the program to the entire nation.
Cameron explained that hepatitis C transfers only through blood-to-blood contact, and most hepatitis C-infected people in New Zealand are injection drug users. The new one-pill-a-day treatment regimen would have none of the side effects of traditional treatment and would be more compatible with the lifestyle of his patients.
Approximately 50,000 New Zealanders had hepatitis C, according to Cameron. Because the virus caused few symptoms other than fatigue, people often lived with hepatitis C for 10-30 years and developed advanced liver disease before being diagnosed. Hepatitis C was the primary reason for liver transplants in most developed nations.
The pilot program followed the Hepatitis Foundations "Can You Say Yes" hepatitis C testing campaign. John Hornell, the Hepatitis Foundations Chief Executive Officer, listed key risk factors for hepatitis C infection: intravenous drug use, unsterile tattoo or piercing equipment, or medical treatment overseas.