Burnet Institute’s Dr Rachel Sacks-Davis is the lead investigator on an NHMRC Ideas Grant worth over $600,000, awarded to examine how a ‘test often, treat early’ approach could help eliminate hepatitis C among people with HIV.
Globally more than 58 million people have chronic hepatitis C infections, and the disease is estimated to cause 400,000 deaths every year.
Approximately 2.3 million people around the world are infected with both HIV and hepatitis C.
“People with both HIV and hepatitis C are more likely to die from hepatitis C compared to people with only hepatitis C because having HIV accelerates the progression of liver disease,” Dr Sacks-Davis said.
The advent of direct-acting antivirals in 2013 has transformed hepatitis C treatment, with 95 per cent of patients now able to be cured of the disease.
This prompted the World Health Organization to set targets to reduce the number of new cases of hepatitis C per year by 90 per cent, and the number of people dying of hepatitis C per year by 65 per cent, by 2030 – to eliminate the disease as a public health threat.
But in Australia and many other countries, hepatitis C treatment is often delayed because of a need to confirm a person has a chronic hepatitis C infection, which requires at least one additional hepatitis C RNA test after the initial test confirming they are currently infected with the disease.
Medicare only reimburses one hepatitis C RNA test per year for infection monitoring.
“The resulting delays in treating hepatitis C increase the risks of people not getting follow-up care and potential onward transmission of the disease, and are like to jeopardise our efforts to eliminate it,” Dr Sacks-Davis said.
Dr Sacks-Davis' three-year research project aims to determine the role of early diagnosis and allowing immediate treatment after diagnosis in eliminating hepatitis C among people with HIV.
She also wants to determine the most cost-effective policies for testing and treatment eligibility after diagnosis.
“I expect the findings to result in a significant shift in the current diagnosis and care paradigm for hepatitis C,” Dr Sacks-Davis said.
“Which will have implications for people with HIV and for those affected by hepatitis C more generally.”