Ireland may not reach its goal of eliminating hepatitis C until 2049, despite making commitments to eliminate the virus by 2030, a major summit will be told this week.
Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 people are affected in Ireland.
A person can develop the virus if they come into contact with the blood of an infected person and currently, Ireland has a high rate of infection among vulnerable groups. For example, among people who inject drugs, the infection rate is around 70-85%, while one-third of homeless people are infected.
While there is no vaccine against hepatitis C, it can be successfully treated. However, if left untreated, it can lead to significant liver damage.
Up to 20% of people with the virus will develop irreversible cirrhosis, which can result in liver failure. Those with cirrhosis also have an increased risk of developing liver cancer.
A major summit, Eliminate Hepatitis C Once and for All, takes place in Dublin this week. It is being hosted by the Hepatitis C Partnership - a national collaborative network of partners working in this area.
Delegates will hear that in 2016, Ireland identified hepatitis C as a major public health priority and committed to meet World Health Organization (WHO) commitments to eliminate the virus by 2030.
However, with just over a decade to go, Ireland is one of the European countries that is not on track to reach this goal.
According to the Polaris Observatory, which is an international organisation that tracks the prevalence of hepatitis C, the elimination of the virus by 2030 is unachievable given current treatment rates and policy.
It predicts that Ireland may not reach the goal of elimination until 2049, which will lead to the loss of more lives and additional healthcare costs.
"A measurable and scaled ‘seek and treat' model needs to be implemented to reach the vulnerable and marginalised groups within the wider community. We need to move away from a hospital-centred model to a community model to treat people where they are at.
"We have to ensure that every person has access to screening and treatment in a timely manner, moving from a phased approach to full equitable access for all. By reimagining, refocusing and expanding our treatment models, we can achieve that goal," the Hepatitis C Partnership said.
The summit takes place in Dublin's Mansion House on September 25.
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