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HIQA advises Minister to introduce birth cohort testing for hepatitis C virus

HIQA has published a health technology assessment (HTA) recommending the introduction of once-off testing for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) to people in Ireland born between 1965 and 1985.

The Authority has advised the Minister for Health that implementation of a birth cohort testing programme would be cost-effective and help Ireland achieve its HCV elimination goals. Following a public consultation, the HTA of birth cohort testing for hepatitis C was approved by the board of HIQA and has been submitted to the Minister for his consideration.

In Ireland, the prevalence of HCV infection is highest amongst those born between 1965 and 1985. Of the 1.5 million people in this cohort, it is estimated that one in every 100 may have chronic HCV infection.

HIQA concluded that offering testing to this group would represent good value for money, but that due to the number of individuals involved, testing would have significant upfront costs. HIQA noted that an initial pilot programme would be beneficial to confirm the prevalence estimates and to address issues concerning the feasibility of the programme before rolling it out nationally.

Dr Máirín Ryan, HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment, said: “Chronic HCV infection is frequently called the ‘silent disease’, as many people do not have symptoms and don’t realise that they are infected. However, the damage it does is not silent. If left untreated, chronic HCV infection can cause severe damage to the liver and other organs. For example, 128 liver transplants completed in Ireland between 2005 and 2018 were due to HCV.”

Dr Ryan continued “From reviewing the evidence, we found that the tests available to diagnose chronic HCV infection are highly accurate. Furthermore, the treatments are safe and effective, with over 95 per cent of people treated being cured of their infection.”

Countries globally are setting targets to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat. In Ireland, HSE aims to achieve the World Health Organisation’s target of making hepatitis C a rare disease before 2030.

The report is accessible at the following link  – HTA of birth cohort testing for hepatitis C | HIQA

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