10,000 Māori could have liver disease without knowing

By Bronson Perich

A liver specialist is calling for national Hepatitis B screening for adult Māori. Dr Ed Gane says Hepatitis B is the No 1 cause of liver cancer.

“We think there are probably about 20,000 Māori who carry the (liver) infection,” Ed Gane says.

“I would think half of them don’t know it.”

Aotearoa has vaccinated babies for hepatitis B since 1988. It is a one-time vaccination that protects a person for life.

But people born before 1988 could be infected, without showing symptoms.

Dr Ed Gane, MBCHB, MD, FRACP, MNZM talks chopped liver - Photo / File

Hepatitis B - a silent antagonist

“That’s the problem. It’s a silent condition,” Dr Gane says.

“So you can be infected at birth, or before you go to school. Then 30-40 years later, you become sick, because you have liver cancer … because no one knew you had Hepatitis B.”

Dr Gane says Māori, Pasifika and Asian people have the highest risk of contracting Hepatitis B. He recalls the government screening initiative in the 1990s and wants rural health providers to resume the programme.

“Every week we end up seeing people referred to our clinics,” Dr Gane says.

“They have advanced liver cancer, from Hepatitis B. These people are not in their eighties and nineties.

“They’re in their forties and fifties. Many of them are the only income earners and it decimates that whānau.”

Weapons of mass wellbeing

Dr Gane says Hepatits B is extremely infectious. Pregnant mothers can pass it on to their children while they are in the womb.

It is Gane's opinion that the national health system is up to the challenge of screening and treating Hepatitis B. 

"They are a couple of tablets funded by the government, which are very safe," Dr Gane says.

"Once daily, no side effects, very effective - but you have to take them lifelong."

Dr Gane says scientists are working on a cure that would eliminate the need for taking lifelong medication.