October 2012

People who inject drugs (PWID) in Australia are at high risk of hepatitis B (HBV) infection. Despite the risk, HBV testing and vaccination uptake and completion is low. Therefore CREIDU welcomes the development of Australia’s first HBV testing policy and the identification of PWID as a priority group for testing and vaccination. The following contains an excerpt from a media release from the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM), September 11th, 2012.

Australia’s first National Hepatitis B Testing Policy was launched at the Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference in Auckland in September this year. The policy is addressing one of the country’s major public health issues, with one-third of the estimated 170,000+ people living with chronic hepatitis B in Australia currently undiagnosed. The impact of hepatitis B (HBV) is and will continue to be significant, as the prevalence of HBV-related cirrhosis and liver cancer continues to increase.

The new testing policy provides advice on appropriate testing pathways for all health professionals who order and interpret hepatitis B tests.

The Policy was written by the National Hepatitis B Virus (HBV) Testing Policy Expert Reference Committee, a joint working party of the Blood Borne Virus and Sexually Transmissible Infections Standing committee (BBVSS) and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections (MACBBVS). The process was coordinated by ASHM.

ASHM’s Clinical Director – Viral Hepatitis, Professor Bob Batey said without appropriate monitoring or treatment, one in four people with chronic hepatitis B will die from liver cancer or liver failure.

“We can see from recent international research that appropriate treatment for chronic hepatitis B can reduce the risk of liver cancer by over 50 per cent in just a few years,” Professor Batey said.

“The clear testing pathway, illustrating the diagnostic decision making process and interpretation of results is a key feature of the new testing policy and will help health professionals to increase diagnosis and appropriate treatment rates to improve patient outcomes… It’s important to note that Medicare rebates apply for hepatitis B serological testing”

Hepatitis Australia CEO Helen Tyrrell said: “This policy outlines the importance of using interpreters or multilingual health workers, as needed, when seeking informed consent prior to testing or conveying test results. This is crucial to the health outcomes of many people living with chronic hepatitis B from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly those born outside Australia in countries with higher rates of hepatitis B.”

The policy is available from www.testingportal.ashm.org.au, an online Testing Portal managed by ASHM. It contains HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B policy documents, with links to further resources to support health professionals in making informed clinical decisions. It will be updated annually to ensure its relevance and accuracy