England may be one of the first countries in the world to eliminate Hepatitis C after a groundbreaking NHS scheme may see the blood-borne virus wiped out in two years.
The NHS pioneering drug deal and the campaign have helped find and cure 70,000 people of the potentially fatal disease as well as drastically reduced the number of people seeking liver transplants due to Hepatitis C.
In a five-year contract worth almost £1billion to buy antiviral drugs for thousands of patients, deaths from Hepatitis C – including liver disease and cancer – have fallen by 35%. This means the NHS has exceeded the World Health Organisation’s target of 10%.
Within six years, the number of people seeking liver transplants due to the virus is down by two-thirds and the number of annual registrations for a liver transplant in patients with Hep C-related diseases reduced from over 140 per year to less than 50 per year in 2020. This figure is expected to be lower in 2022 and the NHS is on track to eliminate Hep C five years before the WHO’s overall 2030 target.
Dedicated ‘find and treat’ programmes delivered in partnership with charities such as St Mungo’s, and the NHS have been successful in reducing cases of Hep C among vulnerable communities. People who have experienced homelessness often do not have regular contact with health services, and as a result suffer from worse health outcomes than the general population.
Children in deprived communities have also benefited significantly. Since the rollout of the pioneering NHS plan to treat children for Hep C last year, more than 100 children received infection-curing antivirals, with 90% of treatments given to the 40% most deprived children.
‘A landmark achievement’
Sara Hide, a Hepatitis C co-ordinator at St Mungo’s in Oxford said: “People who’ve experienced homelessness are at a higher risk of contracting Hepatitis C. This can be due to substance use but also sharing toothbrushes, razors and other general lifestyle factors associated with sleeping rough. The NHS were looking for a way to reach more vulnerable marginalised groups and as a result commissioned a joint venture between Find & Treat and St Mungo’s to work with clients experiencing homelessness.
“With treatment for Hepatitis C now less invasive – a course of medication for 8-12 weeks – we’ve seen an uptake in people responding to our screening services. We also screen for other conditions at the same time to identify clients that might need extra health support.”
NHS England national medical director, Professor Sir Stephen Powis, said: “The NHS is leading the world in the drive to eliminate Hepatitis C and save thousands of lives, while tackling a significant health inequality in the process. Thanks to targeted screening and because the NHS has a proven track record of striking medicine agreements that give patients access to the latest drugs, we are on track to beat global targets and become the first country to eliminate Hepatitis C by 2030 – which will be a landmark achievement.”