The community-based HCV/HIV intervention project increases access to HCV screening, diagnosis and treatment for high-risk populations in the city.
Under the project, which will end in October, a total of 5,000 people at risk will receive HCV information, and 2,500 clients will have HCV rapid diagnostic testing, said Tran Thi Huong Lien, project coordinator.
The testing, which is available at community-led private clinics, only requires a small amount of blood from the prick of a finger.
Ninety percent of HCV-reactive clients will receive confirmatory testing and counselling on treatment options, Lien said.
Although up to 4 percent of the population in Vietnam are exposed to HCV, and from 29 to more than 90 percent of populations with higher risk, such as people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men, are exposed to HCV, only a small proportion with the disease know they are infected, according to Kimberly Green, PATH’s programme director for HIV, tuberculosis, and non-communicable diseases in Vietnam.
Only a vastly reduced proportion of those diagnosed with HCV have access to and complete entire course of treatment, she said.
This is despite the fact that HCV is curable and newer direct acting antivirals are available that can treat HCV early in the course of disease and prevent morbidity and early death due to cirrhosis, liver failure and cancer, she added.
However, with rapid point-of-care testing, and lower-cost, direct-acting antivirals that are pan-genotypic and can be used for all HCV genotypes, the opportunity to identify, treat and work towards eliminating HCV are stronger than ever before, Green said.
Similar to HIV, the HCV virus is spread through the blood or body fluids of an infected person through unprotected sex or shared needles.
The project is being implemented by the HCM City Provincial AIDS Centre in coordination with PATH, an international non-profit organisation, Gilead Sciences, and private clinics in the city.