New Action Plan To Reduce Hepatitis In Wales

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A new action plan to identify people at risk of blood borne viral hepatitis and to improve care for people living with the infection has been issued for public consultation by the Welsh Assembly Government.

Hepatitis B and C are viruses that spread from person to person by contact with infected blood and mainly affect the liver.

These infections can cause serious diseases and even death, but can be prevented and are treatable.

The risk of catching hepatitis B and C increases if people partake in high-risk behaviours such as injecting drug use and unprotected sex.

It is estimated that between 12,000 – 14,000 people in Wales are chronically infected with hepatitis C, the majority of which are unaware of their infection.

The plan, which is out to consultation until 22 July, provides a clear timeframe for the planning and provision of key services in Wales that will:

· Reduce the transmission of blood borne hepatitis infection in Wales;

· Reduce the pool of undiagnosed infection;

· Improve the provision of treatment and support to infected individuals; and,

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· Monitor and evaluate treatment and prevention programmes.

Health Minister Edwina Hart said that this plan will complement other Assembly Government strategies, such as the Substance Misuse Action Plan.

"The development of this plan is a long-term investment in improving the health of the people of Wales. We have long recognised the importance of educating people to help improve their own health through prevention but equally investing in access to treatment and care when needed.

"The challenge is to reduce ongoing transmission and reduce the prevalence of hepatitis which is compounded by issues of social exclusion and marginalisation amongst some of the groups at highest risk of infection in Wales.

"By early diagnosis and intervention as well as greater awareness, we will hopefully see a reduction in hepatitis in Wales over the coming years."

The plan has been developed by the National Public Health Service for Wales (NPHS) following research into the existing burden of hepatitis infection in Wales and service provision undertaken between 2004 and 2007.

Dr Marion Lyons, Head of the NPHS Blood Borne Virus Programme, said: "Transmission of blood borne viruses can be prevented but is common amongst high-risk groups in Wales. If prevention measures are not implemented, the number of people infected by hepatitis B and C will rise and this adds to the disease burden in Wales.

"The new action plan sets out how we can make a real difference in Wales, by reducing the transmission of hepatitis infection, reducing the pool of undiagnosed infection and improving the treatment and support available to those who are infected."

The Chief Medical Officer for Wales, Dr Tony Jewell, added: "Hepatitis has major health implications for the individual and if undiagnosed, problems for others.

"That is why key to this action plan is the need to raise people's awareness of the dangers of high-risk behaviour such as substance misuse and using shared needles or syringes.

"Providing more hepatitis testing will help to prevent spread and improve the health of individuals by enabling them to receive treatment sooner."

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