Wales in danger of missing 2030 target to eradicate virus
Wales could miss its target of eradicating Hepatitis C by 2030 without urgent action from the Welsh Government, according to the National Assembly’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
It found that there is a real opportunity for Wales to be the first country in the UK to completely eliminate Hep C, provided there is a concerted effort and willingness to do so.
Between 12-14,000 people in Wales have Hep C, with almost half of those attending hospital with the virus coming from the poorest 20 per cent of society.
The main way that the virus is spread in the UK is through drug use, by the sharing of needles. The virus attacks the liver and, if untreated, can lead to liver failure or liver cancer.
There is no vaccine for Hep C, but new medications mean it is now curable for nine out of ten people if caught early.
Under the Welsh Government’s Liver Disease Delivery Plan, which includes Hep C, dedicated staff and funding are only confirmed until next year. Public Health Wales told the Committee there would be an extension to 2021 but there was no certainty beyond that point.
“We agree with witnesses that the elimination of Hepatitis C is achievable, but only with a commitment from the Welsh Government to produce a clear elimination strategy without delay, with sustainable funding, ambitious targets, and a workforce plan,” said Dai Lloyd AM, Chair of the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee.
“However it is disappointing that we are not currently on track to meet the 2030 elimination target, and it is very concerning to hear about the uncertainty post 2020/21 in terms of strategy and funding, particularly for dedicated posts.
“Without urgent action to address these matters, the elimination opportunity will be lost.”
The Committee makes four recommendations in its report:
- That the Welsh Government produces a comprehensive national elimination strategy for Hepatitis C, with clear ambitious targets, and workforce planning built in, and provides sustainable funding until elimination is achieved;
- The strategy must include a targeted awareness raising campaign to reach out to at risk communities and also provide for education and training for health professionals;
- The Welsh Government must write to Local Health Board Finance Directors and Chief Executives to emphasise that national treatment targets for Hepatitis C must be considered as minimum targets, to be exceeded wherever possible, if the elimination target of 2030 is to be achieved in Wales; and,
- That the Welsh Government provides additional investment to improve Hepatitis C testing in Welsh prisons.
The report will now be sent to the Welsh Government for consideration.
What is Hepatitis C?
- The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a blood borne virus (BBV) affecting the liver. If untreated, four-fifths of those infected develop chronic hepatitis C, which can cause fatal cirrhosis (scarring of the liver which can lead to liver failure) and liver cancer. The virus is spread when the blood of an infected person gets into the bloodstream of another person.
- The main way HCV is spread in the UK is through drug use, by the sharing of needles. Body piercing or tattooing using unsterilised needles can also spread the virus. On rare occasions it can be spread through sexual contact or from mother to baby before or during birth.
- There is no vaccine for HCV. New medications are seen to have ‘revolutionised’ the treatment of HCV so that it is now curable in around 9 out of 10 people if treated early. The new tablet treatments are more effective and have far fewer side-effects and treatment takes eight to 12 weeks. Even if treatment does not clear the virus, it can still slow down inflammation and liver damage.