You may be interested to know that this Saturday, July 28th is World Hepatitis Day. This year’s theme is “Find the Missing Millions” with a goal of diagnosing more people currently living with Hepatitis without knowing it.
Find out more about world hepatitis day here.
Hepatitis is responsible for 134 Million deaths a year and causes two out of every three cases of liver cancer. It is estimated that 300million people are living with a hepatitis infection and do not know it. Yet there is a simple cure for hepatitis C (HCV) and treatment and a vaccine for hepatitis B. Advances in medicines technology now mean that the new Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs) enable 95% of people completing a course of treatment to be cured of HCV with 8 or 12 weeks of daily tablets.
The World Health Organisation has called for the elimination of hepatitis as a public health concern by 2030. Many affluent countries have recognised that they can achieve elimination sooner than this. Both NHS England and also the Scottish Government have set national targets for elimination of HCV by 2025.
In the United Kingdom, HCV infection is mainly associated with populations who have been affected by injecting drug use. Community pharmacies, with their daily contact with people prescribed Opioid Substitution Therapy and who use Needle Exchanges, are therefore at a key position to test and treat infected individuals.
Public Health Wales have recently published their plan for community pharmacy HCV services in WHC/2017/48. Pharmacies offer many advantages for delivery of HCV care because of their place in the heart of local communities, enabling increased access to testing and treatment and providing the infrastructure to increase capacity. Testing for Hep B, HCV and HIV is straightforward using a dried blood spot test (DBST) and this service is already being delivered by community pharmacies across the United Kingdom.
A series of research studies have shown that people who inject drugs can be tested for HCV by their pharmacy. People at risk of infection should be tested at least yearly. Dried blood spot tests offer an easy method of obtaining a sample from a finger prick. A research project in Dundee showed that people prescribed OST were twice as likely to accept the offer of a DBST from a pharmacy, testing for Hep B, HCV and HIV. The pharmacies posted samples to the local laboratory and received the results back to inform the patient.
Andrew Radley is a Public Health Consultant Pharmacist and Senior Lecturer.