Today is World Hepatitis Day and the global call is to accelerate the elimination of hepatitis and the increased need for testing and treatment for people who need it.
A programme underway in the South Island providing Hepatitis C screening out in local communities is making testing more likely for those who may not access traditional healthcare services. By using portable testing units, people can not only get tested, but have their result within an hour and know if they have been exposed to the virus.
“Hepatitis C effects thousands of New Zealanders, and if not treated, can cause liver damage or cancer. Unfortunately, new infections can often be asymptomatic and go undiagnosed, so it is important as many people as possible, are tested” says Head of Strategic Business Development Trevor English.
“Awanui launched the Test and Treat programme in partnership with Southern Region Hepatitis C Services clinicians and Canterbury Health Laboratories to take Hepatitis C testing out to community clinics and health hubs in Christchurch, Nelson and Invercargill.”
Trevor says by taking the programme into the communities, it removes barriers for people, in-particular those who do not easily engage with the health system, to get tested.
“The programme involves visiting established needle exchange programmes, community hubs and health centres and interact with people who may be less likely to use a traditional health service. This may include those with drug addiction, people who have recently been in prison or without a permanent home, and those who do not feel comfortable visiting a medical centre.”
“The GeneXpert testing machines we’re using for the programme use point of care finger prick antibody testing and can confirm if someone has contacted Hepatitis C in 60 minutes. Previously this had required someone to provide a blood sample. The result is then reviewed by a nurse, and if it is positive, can work with the person on a course for treatment.
As a result of the programme, several people have been found to have Hepatitis C, who were unlikely to have been diagnosed in traditional setting. These people are now able to access treatment.
The Awanui team of Trevor, Clinical Microbiologist Aaron Keene, John Osborne and Tracey Hollings is working with Te Whatu Ora, led by Hepatitis C Regional Coordinator Rob Hallinan, to rollout the programme.
“Fortunately, Hepatitis C can be treated, and our partnership means we have the expertise and capability to reach as many people as possible. Not only is this about increasing access to testing, but also supporting the health and wellbeing of our communities and improving equality in the health system, says Trevor.”