Murray Bridge trials hepatitis C treatment project

Murray Bridge could be the first city in the world to eliminate hepatitis C when it hosts a national pilot project this March.

Hepatitis SA are bringing a new revolution of treatment for the chronic disease to town in the effort to stop the spread of viral hepatitis worldwide by 2030.

Despite an unprecedented number of Australians being cured of the disease in the past year, treatment uptake has proven slower in rural and regional areas.

Murray Bridge will trial a whole-community approach to raise awareness about liver health and increase testing and treatment of hepatitis C.

Local doctors, sporting clubs and services will collaborate to offer testing to the community and education around symptoms of the disease and how it is spread.

As of March 2016, general practitioners have been able to prescribe “new ground-breaking treatments” to those carrying the disease.

Hepatitis SA Executive Officer Kerry Paterson said Murray Bridge had been chosen to host the project for two months due to its progressive nature as a regional town.

She said the slow-acting disease often goes unnoticed as many patients do not experience any symptoms for a long time.

“Of those who have it (hepatitis C), 80 per cent have been tested, which leaves another 20 per cent who potentially don’t know they do,” she said.

She said there were many myths around the way hepatitis C is transmitted.

“It’s a blood-born virus that spreads through blood and is transmitted through unsterile injections, like backyard tattoos,” she said.

“A lot of people are fearful of what it is and what it means but it’s not transmitted through normal social contact.”

Currently, one per cent of the Australian population carry the disease and Ms Paterson said Murray Bridge could be the first to combat the spread if people participate and get cured.

“We’re hoping the people of Murray Bridge will be motivated to get tested and those who have it will go to a doctor for treatment,” she said.

Ms Paterson said all local schools had been approached and, so far, Tyndale Christian School had agreed to be involved in education programs.

The pilot project is part of a global effort to combat hepatitis C, led by the World Health Organisation.

Murray Mallee General Practitioners Network’s business manager Kris Dalitz said an information night would be held on March 8 to educate local doctors on how the project will be implemented next month.

Murray Bridge Council Chief Executive Officer Michael Sedgeman said council had indicated in-principle support for the project, as it was consistent with their position on public health.

“We’re progressing discussions with Hepatitis SA and working through ways to appropriately promote the program,” he said.

“We see Murray Bridge as a leader in the regional space across SA and we’re always open to good ideas so I suppose that does make us progressive.”

Public consultation will occur prior the project’s roll out in late March.