The Health Service Executive launched its National Hepatitis C Strategy today, Tuesday September 4, which provides a framework for a coordinated and integrated response to Hepatitis C in Ireland.
It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Ireland are infected with the Hepatitis C virus. There is very effective treatment now available for Hepatitis C, which eliminates the virus in over 50% of cases. However, there is still a need for a coordinated approach to surveillance, treatment and support.
Many people are still unaware of the risk factors for contracting Hepatitis C and unknowingly engage in behaviours that put them at risk of contracting the virus. Injecting drug use is the leading risk behaviour for transmission of Hepatitis C. In particular, the sharing of injecting equipment poses the greatest risk of exposure to the Hepatitis C virus (prevalence in population of injecting drug users in Ireland ranges from 62%-81%).
The National Hepatitis C Strategy lays out a clear plan with timelines to reduce transmission of Hepatitis C and to improve the care of patients infected with Hepatitis C in Ireland. Implementation of the Strategy will be challenging in the current climate, however a number of the recommendations are already well underway. Other cost neutral recommendations which promote an enhanced, integrated approach towards care and management of Hepatitis C infected service users will be the initial focus of implementation.
Professor Joe Barry, Chair of the HSE National Hepatitis C Strategy Working Group, welcomed the publication of the report, commenting; “We have produced a set of recommendations with timelines which will improve the prevention, detection and treatment of Hepatitis C among all infected groups in Ireland”.