Achieving hepatitis C elimination requires novel approaches to engage people at highest risk of infection into care pathways. Point-of-care-tests may help to overcome some of the barriers preventing people who inject drugs (PWID) accessing testing and progressing to treatment for hepatitis C virus (HCV). We assessed the feasibility and acceptability of HCV point-of-care testing at needle and syringe exchange programs (NSPs) co-located in three community health clinics in Melbourne, Australia.
NSP clients were offered an oral fluid point-of-care test for HCV antibody by NSP staff. Positive HCV antibody tests were followed by a point-of-care test for HCV RNA alongside standard-of-care laboratory testing for hepatitis C treatment work-up. Participants were offered same-day point-of-care results on site, via phone or text message, or upon return to the service. Participants were scheduled for follow-up review with the study nurse for assessment and linkage to treatment.
A total of 174 participants completed HCV antibody point-of-care test; 150 (86%) had a reactive result. Of these, 140 (93%) underwent a HCV RNA point-of-care test and 76 (54%) tested positive; few participants (5%) waited on site for results delivery, but the majority of RNA positive (63%) attended a follow-up visit for treatment work-up (median time to follow-up visit = 11 days; IQR = 7-20 days). The majority of participants reported a preference for point-of-care tests (66%) and supported NSP staff involvement in testing (90%).
Provision of HCV point-of-care tests, follow-up and linkage to treatment services through NSPs was feasible and acceptable to PWID. Despite few participants waiting to receive same-day results, there was effective linkage to care, suggesting value in further evaluation of this approach.