31 Oct 2016
Highlights from the 10th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference
By Laura Thomas
Over 500 people from across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK attended the recent Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference on the Gold Coast, Queensland.
The recent PBS listing of Hepatitis C Cure medicines set the positive and hopeful tone of the conference, which saw a wide range of presentations all geared towards the prospect that in the future we may see the total elimination of both Hepatitis B and C.
The conference was a truly multidisciplinary event that heralded major changes in the sector for all involved: community, peer advocates, service providers, professionals, researchers and government.
The Doherty Institute was widely represented throughout the conference with 12 staff attending, contributing two posters, 14 presentations, five panel presentations and discussions, eight session chairs and plenary hosts, a plenary presentation by Associate Professor Peter Revill, and the launch of a National Hepatitis B Mapping Report by Associate Professor Benjamin Cowie.
The Conference was opened with an impassioned welcome from the Hon Dr David Gillespie MP, Assistant Minister for Rural Health, speaking with his ‘doctor’s hat’ and ‘politician’s hat’ about how Australia will see dividends in the prevention, treatment and cure efforts that have occurred over the past year for viral hepatitis and that these will pay ongoing benefits to the Australian and Global community.
Much was also said about how Australia is currently leading the world with HCV elimination policy, and this puts Australia in an important place to continue making developments to lead the world towards HCV and HBV elimination.
Dr Alex Thompson from St Vincent's Hospital reminded the delegation that Australia leads the world for HCV treatment, but that treatment for everyone globally is required to eliminate the transmission of HCV.
Delegates were lucky enough to hear a number of people who spoke of their experiences of living with hepatitis C and B. Delegates were compelled hearing about the challenges and stigma that can be experienced by people living with viral hepatitis.
It was a powerful reminder of why all the delegates and speakers were meeting that week, and the ‘real-life’ impact that effective prevention, diagnosis, treatment and cure can have on the Australasian and global population.
The theme of elimination and eradication of viral hepatitis informed the majority of the conference, from basic science efforts to public health and prevention efforts, to community and social efforts to reduce stigma and barriers to healthcare for people living with hepatitis.
Associate Professor Benjamin Cowie presented the global burden of disease of viral hepatitis and aided the ongoing message that the existence of medications and vaccinations for HCV and HBV, respectively, is not enough to ensure the elimination of these diseases.
Novel approaches and future action plans for both Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are needed. In his Plenary presentation, Associate Professor Peter Revill urged the importance “of an international coalition dedicated to the elimination of HBV” and that global urgency is required to coordinate the approach to advance HBV and that such advances should be modeled on the successful establishment of coordinated global approaches for HIV.
In the context of the positivity of the conference at the future prospects of elimination, throughout the conference delegates were reminded of the barriers and stigma that people living with hepatitis experience daily, and that we should be aiming to ensure that the most vulnerable populations are not left behind with efforts for elimination.
Associate Professor James Ward, from SAHMRI, urged that global and national efforts should be striving for 100-100-100: 100 per cent reduction in new cases of chronic hepatitis B and C, reduction in deaths, and eligible persons having infections treated.
What may seem like a lofty ambition is important to ensure that no vulnerable person is left behind and that global approaches to viral hepatitis elimination and eradication need to be equitably and available.
The conference stimulated ongoing excitement and positivity for the future prospect of the total elimination of both Hepatitis C and B. While there have been significant gains, there is a huge task ahead and I look forward to the 11th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference, which will be held in New Zealand in 2018.