Hepatitis B is prevalent in New Zealand; there are an estimated 93,600 people with the chronic form of the virus. This represents about two percent of the population, but only around 50 percent of New Zealanders are diagnosed.
Hepatitis Foundation CEO Susan Hay says only about 50 percent of New Zealanders are diagnosed, “Furthermore, 2017 modelling showed only 7,000 are being treated. There should be three times this number.”
A national patient register will help ensure people who need treatment get it. “This is how we will ensure we meet World Health Organisation targets of reducing liver cancer, which disproportionately affects Maori and Pacific people.”
The Hepatitis Foundation runs a long-term monitoring programme for people with hepatitis B that provides access to community hepatitis nurses and specialist care (if needed), regular blood tests and liver assessments, resources and information about hepatitis B, advice and support, and a free helpline.
It has also launched a series of online education courses for primary healthcare providers that are endorsed by the Royal NZ College of GPs. Participants will earn professional development credits upon completion of these courses. The courses are available on the Hepatitis Foundation website.
A recent audit into hepatitis B testing and management within the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) indicated that nationally there are gaps in testing and monitoring. Many patients aren’t getting recommended hepatitis B serology tests, and people with an increased risk of hepatocellular (liver) cancer (HCC) are often not receiving routine ultrasounds. Furthermore, many patients are not being referred for alpha-fetoprotein tests (AFP), which are crucial in monitoring for early HCC.
All GP practices are busy, with many having more patients than they can handle. The Hepatitis Foundation of New Zealand is therefore working to build closer relationships with GPs and provide liver-related education for healthcare professionals to enable more effective treatment and monitoring.
For more information about the Hepatitis Foundation’s services, please visit the Hepatitis Foundation website.