Leading UK politicians pledge continuing support for hepatitis C elimination on World Hepatitis Day

 

July 28th is World Hepatitis Day, an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have seen in recent years towards achieving hepatitis C elimination in the UK, while also acknowledging what there is left to do.

To mark the day, senior cross-party politicians from across the UK have made statements of support.

Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford:

"Today is World Hepatitis Day, and as First Minister of Wales I am re-stating our commitment to achieving the elimination of hepatitis C in Wales by 2030.

"Hepatitis C is a deadly virus that can cause damage to the liver years after infection. However, in recent years available treatments for the virus have improved dramatically and it is now curable. Wales will continue working towards elimination, by ensuring that our health boards have robust cohesive plans in place to be able to find and treat people with hepatitis C.

"An estimated 8,000 people in Wales are still living with the virus, including many who are undiagnosed. Community outreach schemes, coordination with drug services and access to peer-to-peer support from people with lived experience will be key elements of our approach. We must reach people and support them into testing and treatment, and protect those at risk from further harm.

"Finally, we must fight outdated stigma around hepatitis C and empower people to seek support. If you may have been at risk from blood-to-blood contact, I urge to you to get tested, so that you can get the treatment you need."

Maggie Throup, Public Health Minister:

Andrew Gwynne, Shadow Public Health Minister:

"Today to mark World Hepatitis Day, I’m calling for greater focus on testing, treatment and harm reduction to ensure that we eliminate hepatitis C.

"Hepatitis C is a virus spread by blood-to-blood contact, which can cause fatal damage to the liver. However, it is curable and we now know what the solutions to it are, if we keep supporting them. The NHS is working hard towards the 2025 goal to eliminate hepatitis C in England, but with 81,000 people still infected, there is still much more to do.

"Our hope of eliminating the virus is being undermined by a lack of progress with reducing new infections. We need a change of approach from the Government to harm reduction around hepatitis C. That means additional support and guidance for local authorities - which are responsible for needle and syringe exchanges - in order to reduce infections among those at greatest risk and improve public health.

"We must also ensure that frontline health and care services are supported so that testing and treatment can return to and exceed pre-pandemic levels. Increasing testing is paramount, alongside measures to prevent new infections." 

Maree Todd, Scottish Public Health Minister:

"On World Hepatitis Day, I'm really proud to say that the Scottish Government continues our work to eliminate hepatitis C by 2024.

"Although we must recognise that COVID-19 has made this more challenging, our health services are moving beyond their sterling response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Scottish Government is now reinvigorating Scotland’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses Framework. This will support recovery of sexual health services and ensure that work to tackle hepatitis C and other blood-borne viruses continues to be prioritised. We remain really proud that NHS Tayside led the world by eliminating hepatitis C five years ahead of the 2024 target, and we're going to learn the lessons from this as we move towards national elimination.

"Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can cause fatal liver damage, among other health issues. Our priority is to find and treat people who are still living with chronic hepatitis C infections, many of whom don't know they are infected. That's why testing is crucial, if we are to save more lives and reduce health inequalities in Scotland.

"We have to keep spreading the word that hepatitis C is treatable and curable. Years ago, effective treatments were not readily available, but this has changed dramatically, and we must also challenge the stigma some people still face. Nobody should fear seeking the support that they deserve.

"With harm reduction measures, hepatitis C is also preventable. We know that around 90% of new hepatitis C infections result from sharing contaminated drug-taking equipment, such as needles and syringes, so exchanges and access to advice are absolutely crucial to eliminating."

"Finally, as hepatitis C often causes no symptoms and liver damage can go unnoticed for a long period of time, I urge you to get tested for hepatitis C if you think you have been at risk. You can go and check your likelihood of being infected by going to The Hepatitis C Trust’s website."

Douglas Ross, Scottish Conservative Party Leader:

"In Scotland, we have a real chance to lead the world in eliminating hepatitis C by 2024. With thanks to the work of staff in the NHS and partner organisations this is a realistic prospect, and World Hepatitis Day gives us the opportunity to recognise and reinforce these efforts. While it is a realistic goal, it’s not a simple prospect, and we must realise that there are challenges to face before Scotland reaches this ambition.

"It is estimated that 21,000 people in Scotland are chronically infected with hepatitis C, a virus which is contracted through blood-to-blood contact and can cause fatal liver damage. We need to remember that it is preventable, treatable, and curable for most people and that effective treatment is available on the NHS. Access to healthcare and testing is key.

"Scotland has the opportunity to make a real difference and eliminate hepatitis C in the coming years and on World Hepatitis Day, I am pleased to show my support to this cause." 

Anas Sarwar, Scottish Labour Party Leader:

"Today for World Hepatitis Day, I am once again calling for greater efforts to eliminate this deadly virus by Scotland’s 2024 target.

"Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes severe liver damage, and affects some of the most vulnerable and under-served people in our society. Around 21,000 people in Scotland have a chronic hepatitis C infection, but half of those do not yet know they are living with the virus.

"To do this, we need a detailed plan from the Scottish Government to keep us on track to elimination after the disruption COVID-19 has caused to frontline services. This should include more data collection and expanded testing in health and justice services, where we can reach many of those most at risk of infection. Finally, with one in five people in addiction services reporting sharing injection equipment, we need investment in needle exchange to prevent infections in the first place. Eliminating hepatitis C is crucial to the fight against health inequalities in Scotland." 

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader:

"Today is World Hepatitis Day and with only two years left until Scotland’s 2024 target, I am calling for the Scottish Government to redouble efforts to eliminate hepatitis C.

"Hepatitis C is a huge public health and health inequalities issue. We know how to treat and even prevent it, yet 21,000 people in Scotland may remain infected.

"This is in part due to misinformation and a lack of public awareness as well as a lack of widespread and accessible treatment.

"This is why I am calling for a clear plan from the Scottish Government, a wider awareness-raising campaign and greater investment in testing, treatment and prevention. We are in a crucial period in the fight to eliminate hepatitis C and the government must deliver on their promise to tackle this disease once and for all." 

Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Senedd Conservative Group Leader:

"Today is World Hepatitis Day and I am calling on the Welsh Government to ensure Wales refocuses on the effort to eliminate hepatitis C by the 2030 World Health Organisation target at the latest.

"Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that can lead to fatal liver cancer. We do now have the tools to tackle it, but at least 8,000 people in Wales are estimated to be living with chronic hepatitis C, many of whom are not aware they have the infection. Others are still at risk of new infections or reinfection.

"While there has been progress in Wales, modelling has shown that treatment rates were below the rate needed to achieve elimination by 2030 even before the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is why I am calling for a national elimination route-map for Wales, awareness-raising campaigns, and protected funding for hepatitis C testing, treatment and prevention. Together, we can lead the world in hepatitis C elimination.”

Adam Price, Leader of Plaid Cyrmu:

"For World Hepatitis Day, I am renewing Plaid Cymru’s call for Wales to develop a clear plan to eliminate hepatitis C by no later than 2030.

"Hepatitis C is a fatal virus, which is spread by blood-to-blood contact and particularly impacts marginalised people who are often far from services. It is curable, and we know the methods to find people and get them into treatment, but it needs to be prioritised if Wales is to live up to its existing commitments. While the disruption caused by COVID-19 to frontline services was understandable, the impact on hepatitis C services in Wales has been particularly severe, and Wales is the only nation in the UK not to have set a more ambitious elimination target than the World Health Organisation’s global 2030 target. On current trends, Wales is not even on track to hit the 2030 target.

"Confronting hepatitis C is vital if we are to save lives and reduce health inequalities. We need the Welsh Government to publish a route-map and to invest in harm reduction, testing and treatment, in order to regain momentum towards elimination. This will ensure we can find and support the 8,000 people in Wales still impacted by the virus.”