Background of the Australian Human Pituitary Hormone Program

From 1967 until 1985, 2100 Australians were treated with human pituitary hormones under the Australian Human Pituitary Hormone Program (AHPHP).

In similar programs in overseas countries the majority of recipients of human pituitary hormones (hPH) were treated with human growth hormone (hGH) for short statue. In Australia the Australian Human Pituitary Hormone Program (AHPHP) treated approximately 1570 woman and about 60 men for infertility using human pituitary gonadotrophin (hPG). Approximately 660 Australian children were treated for short statue with human growth hormone (hGH).

Five Australians may so far have developed and died from health-care associated (iatrogenic) Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD) after hPH treatment . The program was suspended in 1985 following CJD deaths of recipients of hGH in the United States and England.

All those treated with hPH are at low risk of developing CJD. There is no way of knowing if batches received by recipients were contaminated. To date there is no test to show if recipients are incubating CJD.

The AHPHP was run under the auspices of the Commonwealth Department of Health. The hormones were manufactured by the then government-owned Commonwealth Serum Laboratories in Melbourne.

The AHPHP was conceived and operated by the Human Pituitary Advisory Committee (HPAC) until its activities ceased in 1985 and the committee was disbanded.

From 1992 intense media and political pressure followed news of the first two deaths from iatrogenic CJD as the families demanded an explanation. The then Minister for Health, Senator Graham Richardson, ordered an independent inquiry.

Associate Professor Margaret Allars, an administrative law expert from the University of Sydney conducted the inquiry into the use of Pituitary Derived Hormones in Australia and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, which reported in June 1994.

The inquiry report made a number of recommendations concerning the care of recipients, the establishment of support services and the formation of a ministerial advisory council.

Recipients of hPH now live with a health status of being at “low risk” of CJD. Current infection control guidelines refer to “low risk” patients. Recipients and their families also live with anxiety linked to the threat of contracting a disease which can lie dormant for decades and for which there is no test, treatment or cure.