BACKGROUND: Hepatitis C virus elimination may be possible by scaling up direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment. Due to the safety and simplicity of DAA treatment, primary care-based treatment delivery is now feasible, efficacious and may be cheaper than hospital-based specialist care. In this paper, we use Prime Study data - a randomised controlled trial comparing the uptake of DAA treatment between primary and hospital-based care settings amongst people who inject drugs (PWID) - to estimate the cost of initiating treatment for PWID diagnosed with hepatitis C in primary care compared to hospital-based care. METHODS: The total economic costs associated with delivering DAA treatment (post hepatitis C diagnosis) within the Prime study - including health provider time/training, medical tests, equipment, logistics and pharmacy costs - were collected. Appointment data were used to estimate the number/type of appointments required to initiate treatment in each case, or the stage at which loss to follow up occurred. RESULTS: Among the hepatitis C patients randomised to be treated within primary care, 43/57 (75%) commenced treatment at a mean cost of A$885 (95% CI: A$850-938) per patient initiating treatment. In hospital-based care, 18/53 hepatitis C patients (34%) commenced treatment at a mean cost of A$2078 (range: A$2052-2394) per patient initiating treatment - more than twice as high as primary care. The lower cost in the primary care arm was predominantly the result of increased retention in care compared to the hospital-based arm. CONCLUSIONS: Compared to hospital-based care, providing hepatitis C services for PWID in primary care can improve treatment uptake and approximately halve the average cost of treatment initiation. To improve treatment uptake and cure, countries should consider primary care as the main model for hepatitis C treatment scale-up.
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