SCOTLAND should be rid of the hepatitis C virus by 2024, the Scottish Government said yesterday. The original target of eliminating the virus was 2030, but such has been progress in tackling the liver-damaging disease that the target is now sooner.

Some 21,000 people in Scotland are living with hep C, as it’s known, and by increasing the number of people treated annually, NHS Scotland will be able to effectively eliminate the condition by 2024.

Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick has committed to increase the number of people treated for the potentially fatal blood-borne virus to at least 2500 in 2019-20 and to at least 3000 annually from 2020-21.

During 2018-19 NHS Scotland exceeded the target to treat 2000 people for Hep C which can be undetected for years and which causes progressive damage to the liver.

Hep C is particularly prevalent among people with a history of injecting drugs, and many homeless people are also living with the disease. If left untreated it can cause liver cancer or fatal cirrhosis.

Last year the hepatitis C Trust said tackling the disease should be a “national priority” and a report indicated that more should be done to address the issue.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has set targets for the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health threat, including treating 80% of those who are eligible for treatment and reducing mortality from hepatitis C infection by 65% by 2030.

Joe FitzPatrick (pictured) said: “Scotland has long been known as a world leader when it comes to tackling hepatitis C and this ambitious target confirms that we are still leading the way in our mission to effectively eliminate the virus by 2024 six years ahead of the World Health Organisations expectations.

“Recent figures show we are exceeding our targets on the number of people we are treating for hepatitis C and it is vital that we maintain this momentum.

“We must keep getting the message out that hepatitis C can be cured with a short course of pills, and that anyone who has ever been at risk should get tested.”

Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Government’s Treatment and Therapies Group determined that having no more than 5000 people infected with the virus and new annual presentations of hep-C-related serious disease and death in single figures would meet the WHO targets in the Scottish context.