National Hepatitis C Testing Policy May 2007

Introduction

Page last updated: July 2007

Background and Context

Hepatitis C is a major public health problem in Australia. Since testing began in 1990, it is estimated that over 250,000 people have been exposed to hepatitis C virus (HCV) and that there are approximately 9,600 new infections each year. Infection persists in at least 65-85% of those infected. Cirrhosis develops within 20 years for 5-10% of this group and a further 10-15% after 40 years. Hepatocellular carcinoma will develop in 3-5% per anum of people who develop cirrhosis. Preventive and therapeutic interventions have proven effective in decreasing HCV transmission and improving quality of life and clinical outcomes for people with hepatitis C.

In 2003, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing released the National Hepatitis C Testing Policy. The Hepatitis Sub-committee of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis (MACASHH) and the former Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS, Hepatitis and Related Diseases 1 (IGCAHRD) commissioned the development of this second Hepatitis C Testing Policy in 2006. The process was overseen by the National Hepatitis C Testing Policy Steering Committee. The members of the National Hepatitis C Testing Policy Steering Committee are listed in Appendix 1.

While the primary focus of this policy is diagnostic testing for hepatitis C, it also provides a framework for testing to monitor the clinical condition of people before, during and after treatment for hepatitis C and for screening the blood supply. This technical policy document is for the use of Commonwealth, State and Territory health authorities; members of professional bodies; members of the medical technology industry; health care professionals; members of community organisations; and people living with hepatitis C.

People who are most at risk of contracting hepatitis C due to certain behaviours, practices or settings are often the most marginalised groups within the community. General practitioners and other health care workers have an active and important role to play in reducing and responding to discrimination and isolation and have a primary responsibility to provide high quality and informed non-judgemental care and self-protection.

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Steering Group – Terms of Reference

  • To examine and provide recommendations to the relevant MACASHH subcommittees and BBVSS on elements of the current National Hepatitis C Testing Policy which require revision.
  • Consult with key stakeholder groups on issues to be included in the review of the National Hepatitis C Testing Policy.
  • To provide advice and input to the revised National Hepatitis C Testing Policy.
  • To identify relevant issues which have emerged since the release of the National Hepatitis C Testing Policy in 2003 and provide advice on how best to incorporate these into the revised policy.

Consultation

This policy was sent to stakeholders (refer Appendix 2) for consultation. All comments received were considered by the Steering Group and drafts adjusted accordingly.


1

The subcommittees of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Committee were restructured in mid-2006 with the Intergovernmental Committee on AIDS, Hepatitis and Related Diseases being replaced by the Blood Borne Virus and STIs Subcommittee (BBVSS) of the Australian Population Health Development Principal Committee.