Doctor’s gift boosts access to hepatitis C treatment

Lynne Joseph

A generous $1.4 million bequest from the estate of Dr Lynn Joseph to the Kirby Institute is a boon in the race to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.

Dr Joseph’s bequest has provided much-needed funding to help make hepatitis C treatment more accessible in Australia. The $1.4 million donation reflects the deep commitment to community-based healthcare which Dr Joseph demonstrated during his life.

A World War II veteran, Dr Joseph’s work attending to sick and severely wounded Australian soldiers in Papua New Guinea marked the beginning of a long career in caring.  On returning to Australia, Dr Joseph worked as a GP in Maroubra, where he supported the community for more than 50 years. In this time, he referred many patients to the old Prince Henry and Prince of Wales Hospitals and developed a great respect for the medical practice and education provided by UNSW.

In his will, Dr Joseph left a bequest to UNSW in support of GPs being trained to treat illnesses which would otherwise only be treatable in hospital or by specialist doctors. The honoured recipient of Dr Joseph’s gift, the Kirby Institute at UNSW, is a leading global research institute dedicated to the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. The Kirby Institute will utilise Dr Joseph’s bequest to train GPs to administer treatment for hepatitis C virus. Having dedicated his entire life to caring for people whose lives were blighted by illness, Dr Joseph’s decision to support UNSW’s medical research will enable that work to continue for many years.

Hepatitis C treatment in Australia

Today, 180,000 Australians live with hepatitis C, a disease which severely compromises liver function and has significant implications for quality of life and life expectancy.  Eliminating hepatitis C by 2030 is a current priority for the Kirby Institute. While Australia’s elimination target is feasible, it will require sustained uptake of treatment of around 15,000 people a year.

The Kirby Institute – which has been monitoring the uptake of highly curative hepatitis C treatments since they were released under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in March 2016 – has several projects directed towards enhancing the ability of Australia’s healthcare sector to diagnose and cure the hepatitis C virus because GPs are now able to administer the treatments instead of specialists.  Dr Joseph’s gift will provide support over many years for UNSW-based initiatives.

As the majority of hepatitis C treatment is currently undertaken by non-specialists,  enhanced engagement with general practitioners is vital. An initial project undertaken by the Kirby Institute following Dr Joseph’s bequest brought together a large group of GPs to support ‘GP Champions’.  These Champions inform and educate clinical management of hepatitis C at the primary care level.

Another important element of this project saw a forum organised by the Kirby Institute and Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) which was held in Adelaide, prior to the 10th Australasian Viral Hepatitis Conference.  As part of the Forum, the Adelaide Statement was released, setting ambitious targets for GP involvement in hepatitis C treatment in Australia, with participating GPs committed to a further strengthening of this pivotal role.

This is a vital initiative, given the recent data from the Kirby Institute, which reveals that the numbers of people being treated each month is in decline. Led by Professor Greg Dore, who heads the Viral Hepatitis and Clinical Research Program at the Kirby Institute, this project aims to improve access to lifesaving hepatitis C treatment.

“These new treatment regimens provide a cure for the vast majority of people, with 12 weeks or less oral therapy that is generally well tolerated,” said Professor Dore. “But, it’s clear that many people are still not aware these treatments exist.

“Dr Joseph’s generous bequest has allowed us to support general practitioner leadership and enhance education and training of primary carers to develop effective treatment models for all people living with hepatitis C in Australia,” said Professor Dore.

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