Ireland's hepatitis C elimination plan has fallen 20 years behind its 2030 target, a campaign group has claimed.
The Hepatitis C Partnership believes that Ireland can meet the target set by the World Health Organisation but it requires greater effort from the HSE.
At a conference hosted by the partnership, the head of a US-based organisation dedicated to the elimination of hepatitis C warned that Ireland would not eliminate the virus until 2049.
Dr Homie Razavi, founder and managing director of the Centre for Disease Analysis Foundation in the US, has analysed the economic impact of hepatitis elimination in over 30 countries.
He warned that the cost of not meeting targets would be more than the costs of eliminating the targets.
His team of epidemiologists and modellers have been responsible for the development of a number of mathematical models used by countries to develop hepatitis intervention strategies.
Hepatitis C Partnership chairperson, Lisa Robson, said hepatitis C was treated using direct-acting antiviral tablets for eight to 12 weeks. The tablets are highly effective and clear the infection in more than 90% of people.
It is estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C in Ireland.
In 2016 Ireland identified hepatitis C as a key public health priority and committed to eliminating the disease by 2030.
There were agreed targets of reducing new infections by 90% and mortality by 65% within the 14-year timeframe.
The Government committed to providing €30m annually in ringfenced funding to find and treat adequate numbers of people every year.
Ms Robson said people were being treated but a greater effort was needed to find and treat those who do not realise they are infected with hepatitis C.
She pointed out that Scotland was treating about 3,000 people a year and was on track to eliminate hepatitis C by 2030.
“Scotland is screening people using needle exchange programmes and homeless services. That what we really need to do,” she said.
Ms Robson said Ireland needed to move treatment from the acute hospital setting to a community-based model.
Minister for State for Health Promotion, Catherine Byrne, said 3,700 people had been successfully treated for hepatitis C since 2015. Around 1,800 were treated in 2018, up from 350 in 2015.
"Recent data indicates that Ireland is on the road to achieving the elimination of hepatitis C by 2030, possibly earlier," she said.
Ms Byrne said they were moving to the next phase of the programme - identifying, screening and treating at-risk individuals and populations, such as IV drug users.