Burnet Institute, in partnership with Harm Reduction Victoria (HRV), has been awarded a Gilead Sciences ‘COMMIT’ community grant valued at AUD$170,000 for a project aimed at increasing access to hepatitis C (HCV) testing and treatment for people who inject drugs.
- People who’ve experienced drug use and HCV will be paired with current injecting drug users to help them overcome barriers to testing and treatment for HCV
- The project aims to help Australia meet global targets for HCV elimination by 2030
- An estimated 180,000 Australians are still living with treatable HCV
- Grants valued at more than AUD$2.8 million will support projects aimed at hepatitis elimination in 12 countries
Burnet will work collaboratively to implement an innovative Melbourne-based pilot project that will pair people with a lived experience of drug use and HCV with people who currently inject drugs across Melbourne who have not been tested for hepatitis C or accessed curative hepatitis C treatment.
The peer-to-peer project aims to start a conversation about how to overcome the many barriers faced by people who inject, which might be stopping them prioritising their health and to assist them to navigate pathways into hepatitis C testing, treatment and cure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set a target of 2030 to eliminate viral hepatitis across the globe and working towards this target, Australia has led the way globally providing universal, unrestricted access to all people living with HCV, including at-risk groups such as injecting drug users and prisoners.
More than 70,000 Australians have been cured of HCV since 2016 using new generation medicines known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs).
Despite this progress, an estimated 180,000 Australians are still living with treatable HCV, causing over 600 preventable deaths from liver cancer and liver failure every year.
Marginalised and vulnerable groups, who are traditionally difficult to reach through ‘top down’ public health initiatives, are disproportionately affected by the disease.
The COMMIT program is designed to support non-profit organisations in Europe, Middle East and Australia working to tackle HCV and meet the WHO targets.
Joint Principal Investigator, Dr Alisa Pedrana said Burnet is excited to be partnering with HRV to evaluate the impact that peer-to-peer support programs can have on addressing known barriers to care, such as stigma and discrimination that deeply affects this community.
“Curing someone of their hepatitis C can greatly improve their current health and wellbeing, as well as reduce their risk of developing severe liver disease and hepatocellular carcinoma in the future,” Dr Pedrana said.
“We need to better support people who inject drugs to cure their hepatitis C and that is what this project is all about.
“A major strength of Australia’s response to HCV elimination has been its partnership approach, between key community organisations, government, the health sector and researchers working together, and this is a great example of that in action.”
Joint Principal Investigator and CEO of Harm Reduction Victoria, Sione Crawford said: “As a person with lived experience of injecting drug use who lived with HCV for nearly 20 years, I know that there are many personal and social barriers along the pathway to getting tested and treated for HCV.”
“This important project will work with people who inject and service partners to clear away these barriers and work towards the elimination of HCV in this community most affected by the virus.”
A total of 19 organisations across 12 countries in Europe, the Middle East and Australia received a cumulative total of over AUD$2.8 million supporting a variety of projects aimed at the micro-elimination of HCV within specific populations or settings over a 12-month period.
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