Australia is on track to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.

The nation is among 12 countries in line to meet the WHO elimination targets signed in 2016.

Australia, Egypt, France, Georgia, Iceland, Japan, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, the UK and Mongolia are all treating at least 7 per cent of their infected population each year, and have opened treatment up to all those infected.

Globally, the total number of treated hepatitis C patients increased from 1.8 million to 2.1 million between 2016 and 2017 but most of that growth occurred in middle income countries. 

In high income countries, the number of treated patients decreased.

“The treatment rate decreased in half of the countries on the 2017 list,” says researcher Dr Homie Razavi.

“These countries are still treating a sufficient number of patients to meet the 2030 targets.  However, if treatment continues to decline, they will not be able to achieve the targets.”

National screening campaigns are the only way to find everyone infected with HCV, says Dr Razavi. 

Even countries like Australia, which estimate to have 80 per cent of their HCV infected population diagnosed, are running out of patients. 

This is because the national registries do not keep patient identifiers.  Thus, unless patients remember they tested positive for HCV and walk into a clinic, there is no way to find them. 

High-income countries are currently focusing their screening efforts among the high-risk populations, including people who inject drugs (PWID) at opioid substitution centres, needed and syringe exchange centres, and prisons. 

But the experts estimate that these high-risk groups account for less than 20 per cent of all infections. Sooner or later, this strategy will be self-limiting.

“We would like to see the list of countries on path to elimination grow exponentially next year,” Dr Ravazi says.

“Sadly, most countries are not going to achieve the 2030 goals if they continue doing what they are doing currently.  We need more screening, removal of restrictions, and increased treatment for countries to achieve what they agreed to do when they signed up to the WHO 2030 Elimination Targets.”