The number of prisoners assessed and treated for hepatitis C will soar under a new $2.2 million health program funded by the Andrews Labor Government.
A statewide network of hepatitis clinics will be established at every Victorian prison to ensure up to 280 prisoners are treated for the infectious and debilitating disease over the next two years – up from just 40 now.
The program will help lessen the burden of disease both for individuals and the general community.
A total of 1208 offenders will get help tracking and managing their disease while in prison under the new system, which will see prisoners’ cases overseen by some of Victoria’s top specialists.
Currently, medical help for offenders starting treatment is available at only two prisons – Barwon and Marngoneet. Port Phillip Prison continues treating those offenders who began therapy in the community or at Barwon and Marngoneet but since transferred.
However, Barwon and Marngoneet treat only up to 20 offenders a year, leaving hundreds without access to treatment.
The Statewide Hepatitis Service, which will be run by St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne, is due to start in the middle of this year.
The program will include dedicated nurses, specialists’ consultations and an education program for prisoners and prison staff. This model was developed in consultation with Prof Andrew Lloyd of the University of New South Wales, who spearheaded the implementation of a similar service in NSW.
In Australia, current treatment for Hepatitis C is with Interferon – a course that takes 12 months and can have severe side effects.
However, doctors predict new highly effective antivirals, commonly used overseas to treat hepatitis C, should soon be available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
This will transform the way patients can be treated - people will need only a three-month course of medication rather than 12 months.
The Kirby Institute’s 2013 survey of prisoners found 25 per cent of prisoners had hepatitis C and a further 15 per cent had hepatitis B. Rates in the general community are one to two per cent for each disease.
Quotes attributable to Minister for Corrections, Wade Noonan
“Hepatitis in prisons is a continuing problem and to date the response from government has been limited. This new service gives prisoners the best care and, with a revolution in hepatitis treatment just around the corner, more chance of a cure.”
“Up to now there has been no consistent care. This statewide program will change that and help more prisoners get healthy.”
“The Andrews Labor Government is working hard to reduce the burden of hepatitis C not only in prisons, but across our state.”
Reviewed 19 August 2020