Liver cancer is the fastest known increasing cause of cancer death in Australia with around 15,000 Australians diagnosed with viral hepatitis each year – around the same number diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, almost 1,000 people die from Hepatitis B and C related liver disease annually.

Globally, more than 300 million people are living with the Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C virus, and together, these viruses cause two in every three liver cancer deaths across the globe (more than HIV/AIDs and Malaria) – a number comparable to Tuberculosis.

In recent years, treatment uptake for Hepatitis C has been declining in Victoria and is well behind the National Hepatitis C Strategy target of 65% treatment uptake, and 50% treatment uptake for Hepatitis B by 2022. Only 23.1% of those living with Hepatitis B in Victoria are currently engaged in care.

With the availability of effective vaccines and treatments for Hepatitis B, and a cure for Hepatitis C, the elimination of viral hepatitis is achievable, but greater awareness and understanding of the disease and the risks is a must, as is access to cheaper diagnostics and treatment.

Hepatitis B and C are silent epidemics hitting marginalised communities the hardest, particularly people who inject drugs, indigenous peoples, prisoners, men who have sex with men, migrants and people living with HIV/AIDs.

This World Hepatitis Day we want to highlight the urgent action required by government, health workers, the media, other agencies and the community at large to promote greater awareness of hepatitis and liver disease, access to high quality care and collectively eliminate Hepatitis B and C by 2030.

Organisations like LiverWELL are playing a critical role in the effort to eradicate hepatitis. They work with a range of partners to host events for the public, researchers, scientists, and clinicians, and with at-risk communities where the prevalence of viral hepatitis is high. 

Ben Vasiliou, CEO of Youth Projects & Vice President (non-executive director) of LiverWELL incorporating Hepatitis Victoria.

Youth Projects is working closely with LiverWELL as part of the Fit for Cure project to deliver training sessions to Harm Reduction professionals working in our outreach, Foot Patrol and Proactive Overdose Response teams. These teams deliver support to at-risk people who engage in drug use and high-risk sexual activity. In the last 12 months (during the COVID-19 crisis) they delivered over 1.2 million safe practice kits to almost 7,000 people. Our work with LiverWELL is critical to ensure we are supporting people least likely to access the support they need to screen for, and treat hepatitis.

LiverWELL are also developing online module options for after-hours team. The training sessions are focussed on hepatitis C with an emphasis on treatment options, how to support and engage service users into treatment.

In Melbourne’s CBD at Youth Projects’ primary health service and drop-in centre for those experiencing homelessness – The Living Room - 416 service users were supported to address hepatitis between 2019-2021.

Through The Living Room, service users have access to Hepatitis vaccinations, Hepatitis C treatment, pre and post-test counselling, Liver Function tests, education, and specialist referrals. Youth Projects also partners with Access Health and Viral Hepatitis Nurse Practitioners from the Royal Melbourne Hospital to provide health interventions and education, screening, treatment, counselling, vaccinations, and activities to reduce stigma surrounding Hepatitis.

Youth Projects and The Living Room continue to support thousands of people each year and have set a target to achieve a 100% screening rate on all new service users by the end of 2021. 

With one person dying every 30 seconds from a hepatitis related illness globally – even in the current COVID-19 crisis – we cannot wait to act on viral hepatitis, we need to act now and save lives.

Written by Ben Vasiliou

World Hepatitis Day is observed on 28 July each year and aims to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

For all media enquiries, please contact Nic Horton.

Ben Vasiliou is CEO of Youth Projects, Vice President (non-executive director) of LiverWELL incorporating Hepatitis Victoria and a strong advocate for harm minimisation and improving Australia’s liver health.