Political leaders from Wales have spoken out to reaffirm their commitment to eliminating hepatitis C for World Hepatitis Day on the 28th July 2019. Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus infecting around 12,000 people in Wales, of whom half are unaware they have the infection. People can live with hepatitis C for decades without symptoms, but untreated cases can cause fatal cirrhosis and liver cancer. Hepatitis C is the third most common cause of liver disease, one of the five ‘big killers’ in the UK and the only one where mortality is rising. There are a number of transmission routes, but the most common is through the sharing of drug equipment which accounts for around 90% of new infections. Other routes include receiving blood products or blood transfusions through the NHS before adequate screening in the 1990s, and the sharing of toothbrushes, scissors and razors. A very low percentage of infections occur through mother to baby transmission, needlestick injuries, and unprotected sex where blood is involved. Receiving medical treatment, getting a haircut or shave, and getting a tattoo overseas in countries where razors and needles are not sterilised to such a high standard is also a route of transmission. Wales has signed up to the World Health Organisation’s target to eliminate hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030. Today, First Minister for Wales Mark Drakeford reiterated this pledge. Drakeford praised the nation’s progress towards eliminating hepatitis C: “Wales is leading the way in identifying the 50% of people living with hepatitis C who are unaware they have been infected.” All Welsh leaders lauded the steps that have already been taken in Wales and Drakeford set out recent initiatives to increase hepatitis C testing and treatment. These included various outreach pilot projects and the appointment of a national pharmacy lead. The First Minister for Wales also took the opportunity to celebrate the work of everyone working on hepatitis C: “Thanks to the dedicated efforts of the clinical community and a host of organisations and bodies, we are making progress towards eliminating hepatitis C.” However, the leaders conceded that work needs to continue, particularly to find those people living with the virus unaware they have been infected. Welsh Conservative leader Paul Davies asserted that “we need a concerted effort from the Welsh Government” and called for “an ambitious elimination strategy” to “ensure people do not fall between the gaps”. Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, stated that “we have a unique opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C in Wales, an achievement which would be truly historic”. He praised Public Health Wales’ recent re-engagement initiative, but also set out the need for “a national awareness campaign” to “spread the word to the thousands of people living in Wales who remain undiagnosed or have been diagnosed with hepatitis C but not yet sought treatment”. Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We welcome these statements of support from Welsh party leaders and hope that this World Hepatitis Day presents an opportunity for the Welsh Government to put these declarations into policy. “With highly effective treatments available through the NHS, there is no reason for anyone to be living with hepatitis C. We need to urgently find those still living with an undiagnosed infection and support them to access treatment.”
Read the full statements here.