Communicable Diseases Branch notes the article in this issue of the journal from Najjar and colleagues: Barriers to optimal screening and vaccination of hepatitis B contacts: a survey of general practitioners in NSW, Australia (2017;27(5):e2751749).
Although this article provides an interesting local perspective on a public health unit project to improve engagement with general practitioners (GPs) to identify barriers to implementing hepatitis B contact identification and control measures, we feel that readers should be aware of a number of initiatives since this survey was done between June 2012 and May 2013.
A priority action of the NSW Hepatitis B Strategy 2014–20201 is to increase uptake of hepatitis B vaccination among priority populations, including sexual and household contacts of people with hepatitis B. General practitioners in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, can order hepatitis B vaccine for people who are eligible for free vaccine in the same manner that they order all vaccine provided by NSW Health. Since this survey was undertaken, the Strategy has seen a significant increase in use by GPs of hepatitis B vaccine for priority populations, increasing from 26 000 doses distributed in 2013 to about 45 000 doses in 2016.
Although the authors report that the majority of GPs indicated at least one problem when following up contacts, there is no indication in the paper about how frequently problems are encountered and no indication about how much the problem creates a barrier to contact screening and vaccination. Nevertheless, such barriers are being addressed under the NSW Hepatitis B Strategy 2014–2020. The NSW Ministry of Health has invested in training for primary care providers through the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) to:
Of those prescribed hepatitis B treatment in NSW, 20% received their prescription from a GP in 2016, an increase from 17% in 2015.
This training also includes contact tracing to enable screening and vaccination of close contacts. GPs are advised to contact their local public health unit if they need assistance with hepatitis B contact tracing.
NSW Health is also working with the community to continue to promote testing and treatment for hepatitis B in targeted settings through a joint communications strategy.
Vicky Sheppeard, Director, Communicable Diseases Branch