People who inject drugs (PWID) are disproportionately affected by hepatitis C virus (HCV). This review outlines policy recommendations made in the 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) Guidelines on Screening, Care and Treatment of HCV and their relevance to PWID. It also canvasses issues that will affect translation of these global guidelines into practice. The first global HCV guidelines released by WHO have recently advocated targeted HCV testing for PWID, assessment of liver disease and support for alcohol reduction during care. They also strongly advocate treatment using currently licenced direct-acting antiviral agents for all individuals, in particular PWID as a key affected population. New HCV treatment regimens have the potential to cure more than 90% of treated individuals. Scaling-up treatment among PWID has the potential to improve individual and population health by reducing HCV transmission, improving quality of life and supporting behaviour modifications that lead to less risk-taking over time.
PWID face several barriers to accessing HCV care and treatment that need to be overcome. Testing services need re-orientation toward PWID, individuals need to be informed of their results and provided with direct linkage to ongoing care. Health services need to provide care in the community using simpler, cheaper and more accessible modes of delivery. Healthcare costs and pharmaceutical costs need to be minimised so PWID, who are highly marginalised, can access HCV treatment. Sustained scale-up of treatment for PWID could simultaneously improve individual health and achieve the goal of eliminating HCV transmission among this high-risk and vulnerable group.
JD and MH acknowledge fellowship support from the National Health
and Medical Research Council. JD, BQ and MH acknowledge contribution to this work of the
Victorian Operational Infrastructure Support Program (Department of Health, Victoria,
Australia) to the Burnet Institute.
Full text (postprint manuscript) available at link on right side of page