Nicola Sturgeon has reiterated her pledge to commit Scotland to the World Health Organisations target of eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat by 2030.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus infecting around 21,000 people in Scotland, 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 per cent 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.
Speaking ahead of World Hepatitis Day tomorrow Ms Sturgeon celebrated how far the nation has come in tackling the virus. She said: “I am proud that Scotland is recognised as a world leader in combatting hepatitis C and I am determined to maintain this position.”
However, she conceded that work needs to continue in Scotland. Ms Sturgeon stated the Scottish Government needs “to build on this momentum to do all we can to reach out to the thousands of people who live with hepatitis C undiagnosed”.
She called on people to get tested and treated this World Hepatitis Day. This was echoed by Ruth Davidson, Scottish Conservative leader, who argued that “it’s vital that we continue to raise awareness of hepatitis C and how swift treatment can reduce the likelihood of serious liver conditions developing”.
She also warned that “the journey [to elimination] is not yet complete” and that the government must “be vigilant” and ensure people are encouraged to get tested and given access to treatment.
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 in countries where razors and needles are not sterilised to such a high standard is also a route of transmission.
Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We welcome these statements of support from party leaders.”