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ARTICLE

The Challenge of Eliminating Hepatitis C Virus in the United States

OCT 12, 2017 | BRIAN HOYLE, PHD
Another recommendation is the expansion of screening and treatment to settings that high-risk patients are likely to use, such as the emergency room. Ideally, access would be universal and include the public healthcare setting. Instead of waiting for someone to seek treatment, treatment would be available through local clinics. Restrictions on prescription approval should also be removed, as has been advocated by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Incarcerated individuals are another essential population to address. The prevalence of HCV is high in these individuals and over 90% will ultimately be released from prison. Thus, all those who are incarcerated should be able to receive screening, vaccination, and treatment. The success of this approach, as well as assistance offered through Medicaid and to Native people, will require creative financing to ensure maximum availability of the drugs. The NASEM report committee feels this could be achieved by a novel licensing arrangement or patent assignment to innovative pharmaceutical companies.

The CDC is on-board in the elimination efforts. John Ward, MD, Division of Viral Hepatitis at CDC and the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, Atlanta, Georgia, discussed their role.

The CDC is already committed to the elimination of HCV in US veterans. About 80% of Veterans born between 1945 and 1965 have been screened, with over 90% diagnosed and almost all of those having been treated (and almost always cured). About 58,000 remain eligible for treatment and are proving to be challenging to track down.

Another program involving the Cherokee Nation is underway, with 46% of the target population having been screened. As with Veterans, those who receive treatment are cured. A program to deliver HCV testing through primary care to people who are homeless or in public housing in Philadelphia has worked and will hopefully be rolled out nationwide. Correctional facilities are “the biggest challenge” according to Dr. Ward. He points to ongoing class action lawsuits in 10 states initiated by prisoners as a potential means of enacting legislative change that will drive the expansion of HCV screening and treatment to include correctional facilities.

Cognizant of the upsurge in HCV cases in suburban and rural settings, the CDC is committed to expanding testing outside of urban centers beginning in 2018, and in strengthening their surveillance capacity in national hotspots of HCV and HBV infection. The agency has also embraced new technology, such as next-generation sequencing, and the use of cloud computing as a repository of data. The GHOST cloud-based tool is in use or soon will be in use by 22 states.

Studies have shown that, when it comes to syringe exchange and opioid agonist therapy, availability leads to use—the ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach. CDC is fully on-board with expanding the syringe exchange network and is financially committed to these services as an “expected and funded public health service.”
The hopeful outcome, according to Dr. Ward, will be a healthier nation and the ultimate elimination of HCV by 2030.

In 2013, viral hepatitis was a leading cause of death worldwide, with a death toll of nearly 1.5 million people.  This is greater than the deaths due to HIV, tuberculosis, or malaria. Hepatitis-related death has been increasing for a quarter-century, with over 90% of the deaths due to infection by HCV or hepatitis B virus.

Prevention can reduce the rate of new infections, but the number of those already infected would remain high for a generation. In the absence of additional efforts, 19 million hepatitis-related deaths are anticipated from 2015 to 2030.
 
DISCLOSURES
Shruti Mehta: none
John Ward: none

PRESENTATION
Mini-Symposium: Global Elimination of Hep C
Report of the NAM on HCV Elimination in North America
Shruti Mehta, PhD, MPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD
Plan for Implementation of Hepatitis C Elimination
John Ward, MD, Division of Viral Hepatitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/NCHHSTP, Atlanta, GA
 
Brian Hoyle, PhD, is a medical and science writer and editor from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has been a full-time freelance writer/editor for over 15 years. Prior to that, he was a research microbiologist and lab manager of a provincial government water testing lab. He can be reached at hoyle@square-rainbow.com.
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