Extended exchange programs mark World Hepatitis Day
Support for needle and syringe exchange programs through the Council of Australian Governments has been extended until July next year to ensure continuity of funding until the new Australian Health Care Agreements come into effect. The extension coincides with World Hepatitis Day, 19 May.
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19 May 2008
Support for needle and syringe exchange programs through the Council of Australian Governments has been extended until July next year to ensure continuity of funding until the new Australian Health Care Agreements come into effect.
The extension coincides with World Hepatitis Day, which falls today. Needle and syringe exchange programs are a key strategy in the prevention of hepatitis C in Australia. More than 80 per cent of hepatitis C infections in Australia are the result of unsafe injecting drug use.
The first World Hepatitis Day marks the start of National Hepatitis Awareness Week. The day, with the logo “Am I number 12?”, has been inaugurated to draw attention to the world epidemic of hepatitis B and C viruses. Around 500 million people worldwide are affected by chronic hepatitis B or C – or one in every 12 people on the planet.
More than a million people die each year from viral hepatitis. Most of the infected people, about 400 million, have hepatitis B and most of them live in the Asia-Pacific region.
Australia’s rates of hepatitis B and C infections are thankfully low by world standards but are still a rising public health concern. At the end of 2006, an estimated 202,400 Australians suffered chronic hepatitis C and 160,000 had chronic hepatitis B. This translates to around one in 55 people.
As well as injecting drug users and those who engage in unsafe sex, Australians most at risk of viral hepatitis are Indigenous Australians and those born in Asia-Pacific countries or other parts of the world where hepatitis B is endemic.
Reducing the spread of viral hepatitis is an important target of the Government’s preventative health framework. We will continue to work in partnership with state and territory governments, non-government organisations, doctors and academics to limit spread of this disease, and to provide the most effective treatments.
The Government will continue to provide free hepatitis B vaccine for babies and young people in an effort to reduce the prevalence of the disease.
Our broader health care reforms will ensure more coordinated responses across all elements of the health sector for people affected by viral hepatitis.
Promoting healthy lifestyles and educating people about risky behaviour is also very important for people at risk. The current Hepatitis C Strategy 2005-2008, with $17 million in funding over four years, is being reviewed and will be replaced by a new policy framework to address hepatitis more broadly.
The Australian Health Ministers’ Conference recently endorsed the Custodial Settings Guidelines which deal with hepatitis C in prisons. The guidelines have also been agreed by corrective services ministers and the challenge now is to implement the guidelines at state and territory level.
Further information about 2008 World Hepatitis Day is available at the Hepatitis Australia web site, www.hepatitisaustralia.com. Hepatitis Australia will receive more than $1.6 million in Commonwealth funding over 2007-09 for education and prevention programs.
Facts about hepatitis
Hepatitis is the name for inflammation of the liver. There are three types of hepatitis virus:
- Hepatitis A: an acute (short-term but quite severe) infection of the liver. It is common in developing countries but rare in Australia (300 to 500 cases a year). It can be contracted only once and a vaccine is available.
- Hepatitis B: one of the most common infectious diseases in the world. It is found in blood and body fluids, including breast milk, saliva, vaginal secretions and semen. Chronic infection develops in the majority of people infected with hepatitis B early in life, although most people infected as adults will recover completely. Hepatitis B vaccine is available free to all babies born in Australia through the National Immunisation Program.
- Hepatitis C: is spread through blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine against hepatitis C, nor a cure.
Media contact: Sean Kelly – 0417 108 362
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