REVOLUTIONARY hepatitis C medications are available via Ballarat Community Health. Tablet-based treatments, with direct acting anti-virals, were made available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme on March 1. Advances in hepatitis C treatment have resulted in higher cure rates, shorter treatment duration with very few side-effects.
BCH introduced the medications with the launch this month of a Ballarat support group for people in the region living with hepatitis C, their families and carers.
Treatment at BCH is open to anyone, including injecting drug users, people in prisons and people with lots of liver damage.
BCH nurse Kirsty Simpson said the organisation works as a team to best support each hepatitis. Led by gastroenterologist Mohammed Al-Ansari, integrated hepatitis C nurses Michelle Orr and Ms Simpson, and Chloda Sainsbury, who works two days a week in Ballarat Health Services’ liver clinic.
“The GP (general practitioner role) is an integral part of the whole management for people on treatment,” Ms Simpson said. “Patients can self-refer to Ballarat Community Health but will need to see a GP first to be seen in the liver clinic and by our nurses. People who have concerns they may have been exposed to risk factors should see their GP.”
Hepatitis C is a blood-born virus which, if left untreated, can cause liver disease, including cancer, liver cirrhosis and liver failure. Many people have very few, if any symptoms until the liver becomes severely damage, according to Hepatitis Victoria.Hepatitis C can be cured with medication to treat the virus, but there is no vaccination against the virus. Those who are cured are not immune to reinfection. Despite more than 230,000 Australians living with chronic hepatitis C only one per cent of people with hepatitis C get treatment.
New medications on offer are a great improvement to the two-year ‘triple-threat’ medications Ballarat’s Atma Bindu took to clear her body of the virus – and that was after a two-year period on standard treatment had failed. Ms Bindu’s side-effects were dizzy spells, appetite loss, depression and general body weakness. What helped her treatment and recovery process most was support group meetings in Melbourne to help shake off depression and isolation.
“A Ballarat support group is something I’ve been thinking about for awhile...I know there are a lot of people out there with the disease or recovering,” Ms Bindu said. “I’ve learned a lot about diet and how to look after yourself that I want to share.”
BCH’s hepatitis C support group meets the first Sunday of every month at Federation University’s SMB campus. Details: call Atma on 0409 179 481 or BCH on 5338 4500.