The HSE plans to commence home testing for hepatitis C virus (HCV) in the first quarter of 2022. “To date, the HSE has successfully initiated home testing in other health areas, for example, bowel screening and STI testing services, which has shown to be effective,” a spokesperson for the HSE National Hepatitis C Treatment Programme told the Medical Independent.
“We believe that the online testing for hepatitis C is a very effective way of reaching clients and getting them to treatment. Ensuring an effective pathway to treatment will be an essential part of this initiative.” According to the HSE, the target group is “anyone who may have had a potential exposure in the past, but has not been tested for hepatitis C”.
“Online testing will be available to everyone living in Ireland and will enable equal access to high-quality hepatitis C testing services. Hepatitis C treatment is free and a medical card is not required. Early diagnosis and treatment of hepatitis C improves health outcomes for the individual and may prevent transmission to others.” Community Response, which supports people experiencing problems with alcohol, HCV and liver health, welcomed the development. Manager Ms Nicola Perry said any action that reduced barriers to accessible testing was positive. “We will only attain an accurate picture of incidence by increasing testing,” she underlined.
Community Response has previously called for greater efforts to ensure testing and community-based treatment are more accessible, particularly for marginalised communities. Injecting drug-use is the predominant mode of transmission of HCV.
Some clinicians and community workers remain concerned that significant numbers of people with chronic HCV may not have been identified for curative treatment with direct-acting antivirals (DAAs).
From January to the end of July 2021, some 317 people commenced DAA treatment. This compared to a total of 532 people who commenced DAAs in 2020, with the pandemic impacting testing and treatment access. In 2019, some 1,196 people commenced DAA treatment.