Hepatitis C to be 'eliminated' in five years

The potentially fatal blood-borne virus, Hepatitis C, could be eliminated in Scotland by 2024 - six years ahead of a target set by the World Health Organisation - the Scottish Government claimed today.

The Scottish Government has said it aims to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2024, by stepping up screening. The announcement comes just three days after World Hepatitis Day.

NHS Scotland is set to increase the number of people treated for the virus to at least 2,500 people over the next year and then to 3,000 annually from 2020-21 as part of the effort to wipe out the disease.

Around 21,000 people are estimated to be living with Hepatitis C in Scotland, a condition that causes progressive damage to the liver. The virus doesn't have any noticeable symptoms and as a result many people are infected without realising it. It is also 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.

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The step-up in treatment comes just days after it was announced that an inquiry into the NHS infected blood scandal is to be extended due the number of witnesses who have come forward.

Almost 3,000 people have either submitted or promised statements to the inquiry, which has seen hearings held in Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff, Leeds and London. The infection of up to 30,000 people with contaminated blood has been called the biggest treatment disaster in the history of the NHS as people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders were given blood infected with HIV and hepatitis viruses, during the 1970s and 80s.

Today the Scottish Government said that by setting an aim to eliminate the Hepatitis C virus by 2024, Scotland will have a target six years ahead of the World Health Organisation. WHO wants to eliminate Hepatitis C as a public health threat - including treating 80 per cent of those who are eligible and reducing mortality rates by 65 per cent by 2030.

Scotland's Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said: "Scotland has long been known as a world leader when it comes to tackling Hepatitis C and this ambitious target confirms that we are still leading the way in our mission to effectively eliminate the virus by 2024 six years ahead of the World Health Organisations expectations.

"Recent figures show we are exceeding our targets on the number of people we are treating for Hepatitis C and it is vital that we maintain this momentum. We must keep getting the message out that hepatitis C can be cured with a short course of pills, and that anyone who has ever been at risk should get tested."

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had previously stated, on this year's World Hepatitis Day, that the Scottish Government needed “to reach out to the thousands of people who live with Hepatitis C undiagnosed”, and called on people to get tested and treated.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said it was "vital" to continue raising awareness of the virus and Richard Leonard, Scottish Labour leader, said the numbers living with Hepatitis C was “a health inequalities issue which we have a moral imperative to treat”.

Rachel Halford, chief executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “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.”