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Hepatitis issues highlighted in NZ Medical Journal article

The issues surrounding diagnosis of hepatitis B – and the risks the virus poses to New Zealanders – are highlighted in an NZ Medical Journal article published on July 31. 

The article, written by Professor Ed Gane, Auckland Liver Health Unit deputy director and Hepatitis Foundation of NZ (HFNZ) board member, as well as HFNZ staff, is based on data largely sourced from the foundation and will help target areas of high burden, with the potential to maximise the impact of screening and improvements in diagnosis. 

The Hepatitis Foundation, funded by the Ministry of Health, runs a free support programme that provides initial medical assessments and long-term monitoring to people with hepatitis B (HBV). It links patients to specialist care as needed. “Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of New Zealanders with chronic HBV are registered on our programme,” says board chair William Rainger. “This indicates low awareness and under-diagnosis. Chronic HBV is associated with high rates of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC – liver cancer), transplant and liver-related death. Early detection through regular monitoring can help prevent the illness and decreased survival rates associated with HBV-related complications.” 

The overall HBV prevalence in NZ is about two percent, but is higher in Māori (5.6 percent), Pacific (7.3 percent) and Chinese New Zealanders (8.9 percent). It accounts for over 50 percent of liver disease deaths in Māori, Pacific and Asian people, compared to only 10 percent in Europeans. “Engaging with our highest-risk groups is vital,” HFNZ CEO Susan Hay says. “We want to educate all New Zealanders about hepatitis so they’re aware of the importance of getting tested.” 

The data shows nearly 40 percent of patients who presented with advanced HBV-related HCC were unaware of their HBV status at the time. “This suggests there is a significant number of people with undiagnosed HBV in NZ,” William says. “The research provides necessary data on the burden of chronic HBV. It will help leverage much-needed political commitment and advocate for action and resources.” 

Prof Ed Gane shares his research into hepatitis in a recent NZ Medical Journal article.


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