NHS Tayside claims it is the first region in the world to eradicate hepatitis C ahead of the Scottish government’s 2024 target in a project that involved community pharmacists.
Tayside is one of 14 NHS Scotland boards which started pioneering efforts to tackle the blood-borne virus since in 2012.
Last year, the Scottish government launched plans to eradicate the virus by 2024. NHS Tayside claimed that it had reached that target four years ahead of schedule.
In late 2019, NHS Tayside had diagnosed 90 per cent of patients and treated 80 per cent of eligible infected cases, meeting the World Health Organisation’s 2030 target for reducing prevalence of hepatitis C 11 years early.
The NHS Tayside project, developed in collaboration with the University of Dundee, targets people who inject drugs without waiting until they go on to recovery programmes or stop using drugs.
This prevents them passing the virus on to others and helps stop its spread.
Treatment for HCV involves patients taking combination drugs daily for eight weeks.
Testing and treatment is offered in nurse-led community clinics as well as in more than 60 community pharmacies, in prisons and drug treatment services, including third sector drug services.
Since testing began, NHS Tayside has diagnosed 1970 people, who are still alive and living in Tayside, and treated in excess of 1800 people – more than 90 per cent of the estimated prevalence of the virus – meeting both the WHO and Scottish Government targets ahead of schedule.
The University of Dundee’s Professor John Dillon, consultant hepatologist and gastroenterologist, said: “Hepatitis C is a life threatening disease which consumes a significant amount of resource in the NHS. Previous thinking had been that a community of people who inject drugs and their lives are too chaotic to allow for the sort of sustained treatment that hepatitis C needs to achieve a cure.
“However, our view was that with the right approach, supported with appropriate resources, we could tackle what is a very significant problem and reduce the rates of hepatitis C infection.
“If you can offer treatment at a very early stage, while people who are infected are still actively injecting, when they have contact with other people who inject and share equipment with other people, their chances of transmission disappear because they’re not infected any more. It’s the idea of treatment as prevention.
“Standard treatments were also arduous for patients and required injections. Newer treatments are easier, safer and have high cure rates.
“The programme started with a single project in a Dundee needle exchange before expanding to multiple research projects and redesign of services to achieve the milestone we have now reached, which justifies the brave decision to support this approach.
An estimated 21,000 people across the country live with the chronic viral infection which causes progressive damage to the liver.