The introduction of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapies has meant the elimination of hepatitis C as a public health issue in Australia is a very real possibility. The challenge that remains is to ensure that all people living with HCV can access testing to become aware of their status, and then get treated and cured.
Given that people who inject drugs (PWID) account for the vast majority of new HCV infections in Australia ensuring that hepatitis C testing methods are reaching this group will be key to elimination efforts. Innovative approaches are needed to overcome the barriers to accessing health services that are faced by PWID, and getting more people diagnosed and linked to treatment.
The Rapid-EC pilot study will determine feasibility of providing rapid point-of-care testing for hepatitis C in community clinics, and whether the availability of point-of-care testing increases uptake of testing, engagement in care and completion of treatment among PWID.
The study will use new testing technology and be delivered by a multi-disciplinary team, many of whom have lived experience with injecting drug use. Participants will undergo a mouth swab test for the presence of hepatitis C antibodies, which indicates whether a person has ever been exposed to hepatitis C. This result is available in 20 minutes. If this test is positive participants will then be offered a test for the presence of virus in the blood, known as a PCR or RNA test. The RNA point-of-care test uses a sample of blood from the vein and is run on-site at each clinic. This test provides results in 105 minutes, allowing participants to know their HCV status on the day of testing.
The Rapid-EC pilot study is running at three sites in Melbourne for five months from July 2017:
- Health Works in Footscray
- Innerspace in Collingwood
- North Richmond Community Health.
This study will provide valuable insights into the feasibility and effects of offering point-of-care testing for hepatitis C, particularly the effect on uptake of testing and treatment.
The results will inform future trials of hepatitis C point-of-care testing.
From July 2017 - for five months.