Hepatitis C (hep C) is spread through exposure to infected blood and can cause serious damage to the liver without someone knowing.1
If left untreated hep C may cause scarring to the liver, cancer and even death.1
In England, there are currently 74,600 people living with chronic hep c, with almost 75% of those infected unaware that they have this disease. An important at-risk group are those who inject drugs, where the prevalence is estimated to be 56%.2
The good news is that advancements in testing and treatment mean health service providers have the tools to combat hep C, which was once a challenge. However, continued collaboration is required to achieve the NHS England (NHSE) target of hep C elimination in advance of the World Health Organisation goal of 2030, which would make England one of the first countries in the world to do so.3
Mark Gillyon-Powell, Head of Programme for Hep C Elimination in England, NHS England, states:
“Seeing the likes of drug and alcohol support services, NHS organisations, charities and the pharmaceutical industry coming together to tackle this challenge, is great. We’re achieving big milestones at national, regional and local levels towards elimination. The fact our initiative is not overly reliant on just one group is a real strength and is achievable by this cross-functional collaboration. Our ambition is to bring about an end to hepatitis C infection in this country, and making sure we don’t leave anyone behind along the way.”
In order to reach this target, we need the support of drug support service workers, like you, who can play a vital role in providing information and resources about hep C testing and treatment to people who currently or have previously injected drugs. Below are a few ways you can get involved:
1. Learn more about hep C elimination
The Be Free Of Hep C Elimination Series offers you the opportunity to share and learn from elimination peers involved in the identification, diagnosis and/or treatment of hepatitis C. Watch the highlights from our 2022 workshop and hear why this is the time to get involved.
We’ve never been so close to our shared goal of elimination. So far, more than 16 drug services have achieved micro-elimination status in England.4 This means that they have completed these milestones for the testing and treatment of hep C:5
- 100% of those in treatment have been offered a test
- 100% of those that have a history of injecting drugs have been tested
- 90% of those currently using injected drugs, or at continued risk of infection, have been tested within the last year
- 90% of people who test positive for hep C, have started treatment.
The definition and criteria for micro-elimination was created and agreed through a collaboration between WithYou, Change Grow Live (CGL), Westminster Drug Project (WDP), Humankind, Turning Point, NHS Addictions provider alliance (NHS APA) and Gilead Sciences.
To learn more about the changes that can be made, however small, that will make a huge difference, visit befreeofhepc.co.uk/elimination to watch the latest videos in this series. Or sign-up to our Gilead mailing list here, to receive updates when new resources become available.
2. Download helpful resources
To support you with highlighting the risk factors for hep C to your clients, we have created tools, such as discussion guides, leaflets, posters, and stickers to use in your centres and when engaging those at-risk. Visit befreeofhepc.co.uk/providers to download and print these materials.
3. Raise awareness about testing options
Approximately 50% of people living with hep C do not know that they have the virus, therefore, it is important to get all those at-risk a test.6 Since 2019, through joint efforts with elimination partners, there has been over 300,000 hep C tests conducted.5 This is despite a drop in testing of over 65% in the first 6-months of the COVID-19 pandemic.7
With the aim of increase testing accessibility, NHS England has now launched a free, at-home blood test, that is delivered confidentially through the post. This additional testing offering supplements the existing approach of using medical appointments to take a blood sample.
At Gilead, we are working toward elimination targets by actively supporting the efforts of governments, patient organisations, payers and healthcare providers to increase awareness, drive screening and facilitate linkage to care. Collaborating with the aforementioned organisations we are empowering community-based testing of those at risk and getting those with hep C into the appropriate treatment pathways. We are proud of the work done so far by our partners whilst we make steps toward elimination.
The Be Free Of Hep C and Hep C, Ki? campaigns are disease awareness programmes that have been developed and funded by Gilead Sciences Ltd, a science-based pharmaceutical company. Gilead Sciences are proud to be working in partnership with NHSE, Hepatitis C Trust and drug treatment services to help reach the hep C elimination target.
- NHS. Overview: Hepatitis C. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hepatitis-c/ Last accessed: June 2023.
- UK Health Security Agency. Hepatitis C in the UK 2023. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1133731/hepatitis-c-in-the-UK-2023.pdf Last accessed: June 2023.
- NHS. News: NHS set to eliminate Hepatitis C ahead of rest of the world. Available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/2022/12/nhs-set-to-eliminate-hepatitis-c-ahead-of-rest-of-the-world/ Last accessed: June 2023
- Internal Gilead reference, available upon request
- Smethurst, P. (2022) ‘Hep C Elimination: the time to act is now’, Stronger together. Gilead Sciences/London. 8 July
- Hepatitis C Trust. South Asian outreach. Available at: http://hepctrust.org.uk/services/south-asian-outreach Last accessed: June 2023.
- Salehi S et al. International Conference on Health and Hepatitis Case in Substance Users (INSHU), 13th–15th October 2021, virtual; Poster #195
July 2023 UK-UNB-4068