WELLINGTON, July 28 (Xinhua) -- Hepatitis C can be eliminated from New Zealand within the next 20 years but to achieve this, testing and treatment in primary care must be increased, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Friday.
Friday marked the World Hepatitis Day, and with this year's theme of "eliminating hepatitis," it is timely to reflect on the progress being made, and to focus on what more can be done to diagnose and treat hepatitis B and C, Coleman said in a release.
In May 2016, New Zealand was one of 194 countries that adopted the World Health Organization's Global Hepatitis Strategy which set the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, and this is achievable in New Zealand, Coleman said.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection affecting over 50,000 New Zealanders, although it is estimated only half are currently diagnosed, according to the minister.
Untreated around 25 percent will develop cirrhosis, and without successful treatment up to 10 percent of those with cirrhosis will progress to life-threatening liver cancer or liver failure, he said.
In October 2016, the government allowed all prescribers to prescribe the new hepatitis C treatments, which are antiviral therapies with cure rates of over 90 percent. To date, over 2,000 people have been funded for the new treatments, Coleman said.
"Great strides have been made towards eliminating hepatitis B, with its vaccine part of the childhood immunization program since 1987," he said, adding that it is estimated that around 100,000 New Zealanders are currently living with the virus, with many undiagnosed as symptoms can take decades to appear.