A renowned hepatitis expert said Hong Kong could be among the first cities in the world to eradicate hepatitis C, if a citywide action plan is formulated. Professor Henry Chan Lik-yuen, chairman of a hepatitis advisory committee under the World Health Organisation, said insufficient data and the absence of a comprehensive policy were both significant barriers to effective treatment of the liver disease. But Hong Kong could take the lead in bringing the number of cases down to zero if the issues were remedied, he said. “If we could set a timetable to treat a certain number of cases by a certain time, patients would not have to wait ages for treatment,” Chan said. Treatment offers subsidised hope for Hepatitis C patients There are about 30,000 people with hepatitis C in Hong Kong, with many contracting the virus by sharing needles or through transmission from mother to baby. Despite the small number, the disease remains a significant public health concern. About one fifth of hepatitis C patients in the city could develop cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, within 20 years, which can lead to liver cancer. Around the world, about 48 per cent of hepatitis-related deaths have been attributed to hepatitis C. Chan, also a professor at Chinese University, said the disease was curable and easily identified, but the city’s method of tackling it was far from satisfactory. With no treatment plan or efforts to identify patients who refuse to seek medical help, the city is only combatting the disease on a case-by-case basis, he said. “Now the government doesn’t have any plan and can only act according to each situation,” Chan said. For example, he said patients were only given the most efficient drug treatment for free after being found to be unresponsive to conventional drugs and already having cirrhosis. Those who want medication in advance must pay HK$400,000 for a three-month course. China needs to take urgent action to save lives of 10 million hepatitis patients: WHO According to Chan, the Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in Hong Kong is conducting a data review in an effort to understand the severity of the disease among hepatitis C patients. He said the information could be used to draft a proper action plan and give government an idea of how much our city is actually lagging behind international goals to combat the disease. Treatment priority could also be given to patients who are in greater need, he added. Chan’s call came as the WHO released its plan for the disease in the Western Pacific region. All WHO members are urged to develop a comprehensive action plan by 2020 to reduce the spread of the disease. The organisation also put forward targets for curing sufferers. The Department of Health said it was working with the global health authority to reach its health targets.