A Melbourne doctor who specialises in infectious diseases has set his sights on eliminating hepatitis C in Australia. Dr Joseph Doyle believes it can be done; his impressive research has landed him a nomination for the Bupa Health Foundation’s Emerging Health Researcher Awards for 2016.
On a day to day basis, Dr Joseph Doyle works with patients in the Alfred Hospital and Monash University’s department of infectious diseases. But he’s also been an advisor for the World Health Organisation so he understands only too well that those who end up getting care in hospital are sometimes the lucky ones.
“Being a population health researcher, I like thinking, ‘Well, we can help one person and we can help many in the hospital, but how can we help millions in the country, or at the international level as well?’”
Some of the patients Dr Doyle treats have hepatitis C – an infection which can usually be cured with the right treatment.
But many people around Australia (and the world) don’t have access to the help they need, and the infection is continuing to spread, which is why Dr Doyle has turned his focus towards delivering Hep C treatment to the most vulnerable communities.
“My project is aiming to optimise the treatment of hepatitis C [infection] for highly vulnerable populations. That means people who don’t always access to health care through the traditional model, they don’t always come to hospitals or General Practitioners. So we try to make sure that hepatitis C treatments can be delivered to them out in the communities where they live.”
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by a virus which is transmitted through the blood. In mild cases, some people will recover on their own. Their immune system fights the infection, and the person may not even know that they were infected. But if it's not cleared after about 6 months, the condition becomes chronic hepatitis C. It can lead to sickness, and in the most severe cases, cirrhosis (a form of liver damage), liver cancer, or liver failure.
Dr Doyle believes that focusing on those vulnerable communities could be key to wiping out Hep C on a broader scale. His team has already engaged 800 patients in care and treatment.
“Australia is really blessed because we’ve got all the tools to try to eliminate Hep C in Australia. We’ve got good access to treatment because the government has subsidised Hep C treatment for everyone. Not every country has done that. We’ve also got good testing so you can go and have a Hep C test at your local clinic or your hospital for free because it’s covered under Medicare.”
“If we can give everybody a chance to get cured, there’s the chance that not only can they benefit individually and avoid liver damage, and avoid liver cancer, but the whole population can benefit because we can reduce transmission of hepatitis C as well."
World wide, it’s believed chronic hepatitis C affects more than 130 million people – or more than 5 times the population of Australia. Most of those infections come from unsafe injecting drug use.
Dr Doyle is one of five finalists in the running to win the Bupa Health Foundation
’s Emerging Health Research Awards for 2016. The winner will receive $25,000 towards their research, while the other four finalists will each receive $5,000.
Bupa Health Foundation Executive Leader Annette Schmiede said the Awards support the bright future of Australia’s health researchers to become global leaders.
“We want to keep encouraging our Australian researchers to think big and make discoveries that can change the health landscape.
The winner will be announced at an event on 16 November 2016 in Sydney.