Harnessing the COVID-19 Response Towards Hepatitis C Elimination
On February 3, 2021, Treatment Action Group (TAG), Médecins du Monde, hepCoalition, and the UNITE network convened a virtual policy dialogue among parliamentarians, global civil society organizations, and community leaders to share how COVID-19 has impacted global hepatitis C virus (HCV) elimination efforts. The virtual policy dialogue offered an opportunity to reflect on the latest scientific progress and policy innovations from the International AIDS Society COVID-19 Prevention Conference.
The discussion was framed by the launch of a new policy brief, Hepatitis C and COVID-19 Global Concerns: Sustained Financing and Expanded Access to Testing and Pangenotypic Treatments Needed to Recover the Path to Elimination, to highlight strategies that leverage the COVID-19 response towards improving access to HCV diagnostics, treatment, and care.
Even before the latest pandemic, the majority of people living with HCV were left untreated–by some estimates, 67 million people worldwide and 1.8 million people (67%) in the U.S. Overdoses (80,000 people in the U.S.) and liver-related deaths (800,000 liver cancer deaths globally) soared in 2020, which are not counted in non-COVID-19-related excess deaths. Public funding and health resources have been reallocated from addressing HCV and other infectious diseases to respond to COVID-19. Investments in the research and development of HCV treatments—such as remdesivir, sofosbuvir, and daclatasvir—diagnostics tools, and lab infrastructure have directly led to the creation of goods that are being utilized for COVID-19.
“The pandemic has disrupted the delivery of essential services to people living with HCV and people with substance use disorders,” said Bryn Gay, HCV Project Director at Treatment Action Group. “As governments and donors send emergency COVID-19 relief aid to countries and jurisdictions, sustained financing and expanded access to prevention, testing, and treatments for HCV need to be included to recover the path to achieving global health goals.”
The virtual policy dialogue covered in-country realities and impacts caused by interruptions to HCV programmes and innovations implemented during the pandemic including: integrating COVID-19 and HCV into testing strategies; take-home and delivery of HCV, naloxone, and opioid substitution treatments; and increasing community outreach and peer workers.
“Throughout the pandemic, our programmes have had to constantly adapt to ensure the continuation of health care services,” said Samantha Hodgetts, Harm Reduction Advocacy Advisor at Médecins du Monde. “These adaptations, together with strong advocacy efforts by communities and civil society, have led to innovations at the programme level and strong political will is needed for these developments to be sustained beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.”
To regain ground towards global HCV elimination, governments can take an integrative strategy that strategically uses funding to reinforce existing health infrastructure, address current service gaps, pool resources across regions, states, or jurisdictions, and procure volume-based deals for HCV and COVID-19 treatments and diagnostics.
“The crushing demands of the COVID-19 pandemic have strained healthcare systems and capacity around the world. We must continue to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19, but we can’t risk ignoring other life-threatening diseases while these efforts are ongoing,” said Amish Laxmidas, UNITE’s Executive Director. “UNITE’s policymakers are committed to tackle infectious diseases, in particular HCV, while promoting efficient legislative tools, smart resource mobilization and advocacy tools. Together we are stronger!”
Recording of the event is available HERE.
Treatment Action Group
Treatment Action Group (TAG) is an independent, activist and community-based research and policy think tank fighting for better treatment, prevention, a vaccine, and a cure for HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis C virus.
Médecins du Monde
Working in France and 34 countries worldwide, Doctors of the World – Médecins du Monde (MdM) is an independent international movement of campaigning activists who provide care, bear witness and support social change. Through 326 innovative medical programmes and evidence-based advocacy initiatives, MdM enables excluded individuals and their communities to access health and fight for universal access to healthcare.
Co-founded by TAG and MdM, hepCoalition is a network of global advocates focused on access to diagnostics, treatment, and support for people living with a high risk for HCV in low- and middle-income countries, particularly for people who use drugs and people living with HIV/HCV.
UNITE is a global network of parliamentarians committed to achieving political impact towards ending infectious diseases as a global health threat.