Hepatitis C, a potentially life-threatening liver disease, affects an estimated 12 million people in India, most of whom do not know that they have been infected with the virus. Until the last year or two, the disease received little public attention. However, hepatitis C is suddenly in the spotlight because thanks to newly available treatment, the disease can be cured in more than 90% of cases in only about 12 weeks, compared with previous treatment regimens that required a year or more and had terrible side effects--and after all that, cured far fewer patients. With effective treatment, there is now a real possibility of eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat... but first we have to diagnose those who are infected.
A lack of appropriate and effective diagnostic tests is now the major barrier to providing life-saving care and treatment for hepatitis C.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is spread through infected blood during blood transfusions, organ transplants, sexual contact or shared use of infected needles. In about one-third of people infected with HCV, the immune system clears the infection naturally. The remainder develop chronic infections that can be transmitted to others but may not show symptoms--in some cases, for many years. However, failure to treat an HCV infection can be fatal, as the infection can ultimately lead to severe illness, including liver cancer.
A lack of appropriate and effective diagnostic tests is now the major barrier to providing life-saving care and treatment for hepatitis C. The tests currently available are expensive and only available in central laboratories, making them inaccessible to most people. Moreover, these tests take at least two weeks to produce results. These are major barriers for universally accessible HCV diagnosis, treatment and cure. India needs affordable, rapid and simplified screening tests that can be adapted to resource-limited settings, such as remote areas and interior regions of the country. We also need the political will to implement comprehensive HCV programmes and innovative public-private partnerships to improve HCV care.
Introducing simple, low-cost, rapid tests for hepatitis C will pull down the barriers to treatment--and make the possibility of HCV elimination planning in India a reality.
FIND is collaborating with pharmaceutical and healthcare partners, including Cipla, to support research and development in improving the sensitivity of new HCV diagnostic tests, with plans to build HCV diagnostic capacity to enable the more widespread availability of HCV treatment. FIND is also planning the development and evaluation of demonstration programmes that combine HCV testing and treatment for high-risk populations, including those with HIV-HCV co-infection. To accomplish this in India and up to seven other countries, FIND is negotiating a proposed HCV project with UNITAID, an international organization that invests in promising global health technologies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment to establish their viability. If approved, the proposed project would support evidence-gathering for regulatory approval of new, simplified and high-quality HCV diagnostic tests, secure preferential pricing agreements with test suppliers, and incorporate new HCV tests in existing HIV programmes. This would bring access to HCV diagnosis and treatment to some of the most vulnerable populations in India.
Validating and introducing simple, low-cost, rapid tests for hepatitis C will pull down the barriers to treatment--and make the possibility of HCV elimination planning in India a reality.
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