HSE launches National Hepatitis C Strategy
The Health Service Executive has launched its National Hepatitis C Strategy, which provides a framework for a coordinated and integrated response to Hepatitis C in Ireland.
It is estimated that between 20,000 and 50,000 people in Ireland are infected with the Hepatitis C virus. There is very effective treatment now available for Hepatitis C, which eliminates the virus in over 50% of cases. However, there is still a need for a coordinated approach to surveillance, treatment and support.
Many people are still unaware of the risk factors for contracting Hepatitis C and unknowingly engage in behaviours that put them at risk of contracting the virus. Injecting drug use is the leading risk behaviour for transmission of Hepatitis C. In particular, the sharing of injecting equipment poses the greatest risk of exposure to the Hepatitis C virus (prevalence in population of injecting drug users in Ireland ranges from 62%-81%).
The National Hepatitis C Strategy lays out a clear plan with timelines to reduce transmission of Hepatitis C and to improve the care of patients infected with Hepatitis C in Ireland. Implementation of the Strategy will be challenging in the current climate, however a number of the recommendations are already well underway. Other cost neutral recommendations which promote an enhanced, integrated approach towards care and management of Hepatitis C infected service users will be the initial focus of implementation.
Professor Joe Barry, Chair of the HSE National Hepatitis C Strategy Working Group, welcomed the publication of the report, commenting; "We have produced a set of recommendations with timelines which will improve the prevention, detection and treatment of Hepatitis C among all infected groups in Ireland".
Summary of the Recommendations
- Strengthening of the Hepatitis C notification system
- Enabling appropriate follow up on newly diagnosed cases
- Improving knowledge around Hepatitis C infection in Ireland
- Prevention of infection through initiatives targeting drug use
- Developing targeted strategies for socially excluded groups
- Promoting guidelines governing tattooing, permanent makeup or body piercing
- Enhancing provision of up-to-date, accurate communication and information around Hepatitis C
Screening and Laboratory Testing
- Access to diagnostic facilities, release of results of screening etc
- Screening of new entrants to the health system
- Issues around screening and uptake among the prison population
- Guidance on clinical issues
- Barriers to treatment uptake and adherence
- Hepatitis C care in custody
- Overall care issues around Hepatitis C
Diane Nurse, National Planning Specialist, HSE Social Inclusion stated that; “This strategy offers a positive means of promoting an integrated approach to the many, wide ranging issues around management of Hepatitis C in Ireland; implementation of these recommendations offers opportunities for greater synergy and coordination within existing services.”
The effective management of Hepatitis C is one where a partnership approach between medical professionals and community/voluntary organisations can be very productive. The Strategy supports and enhances this partnership approach and provides us with the framework to develop and enhance services for patients. We look forward to working closely with our partner organisations on the implementation of the Strategy.”
Anna Quigley, Executive Director of Dublin AIDS Alliance, welcomed the strategy, saying "Issues relating to Hepatitis C continue to be a core part of our work in Dublin AIDS Alliance and we welcome the publication by the HSE of the Hepatitis C Strategy. A huge amount of work was put in by people across the statutory, voluntary and community sectors to developing the Strategy and the final document represents a considerable resource based on the wide-ranging expertise of those who were involved.”
The report is available to read on the HSE website here.