If necessity is the mother of invention, then the past year has delivered a host of new solutions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These innovations have revealed a clearer picture about how to deliver more efficient care, and some experts believe these innovations are here to stay.
For those on the frontlines working to eliminate the hepatitis C virus (HCV)1, it has inspired creative problem solving to reach the estimated 71 million people worldwide who are infected with HCV.
For these people, especially those on the margins of society, ripple effects from the pandemic created more challenges to finding care. As a result, telemedicine has become mainstream. New approaches to testing large numbers of people have emerged and there is renewed optimism to reach the World Health Organization’s goal to eliminate HCV by 2030.
Rachel Halford, CEO of the Hepatitis C Trust, a patient organization that works across the UK, and Dr. Stanislas Pol, head of the liver unit of Hôpital Cochin in Paris, France, have been working throughout the pandemic to educate, test and treat patients with HCV to help sustain momentum toward eliminating the disease. They recently met virtually to discuss lessons learned during the pandemic, new ways of delivering care, and why they’re optimistic about eliminating HCV.
For people living with HCV, what are some of the biggest challenges from the pandemic?
Rachel Halford: The biggest issue that we have seen during the COVID-19 pandemic with our work as a patient advocacy group has been decreased access to testing, especially for those already outside of the healthcare system. In our work with people experiencing homelessness in the UK, for example, this has been challenging, but we’ve also seen innovative thinking about delivering testing that could be a model for the future.
During the pandemic, a government initiative opened hotels to house people experiencing homelessness. One of the remarkable things that we managed to do very quickly starting in London was get all the different agencies who are working to eliminate HCV to work as a team to deliver testing to entire hotels.
Dr. Pol: Where I work, we had a 50% reduction in the number of treated patients during the pandemic as compared to the same period one year before. So clearly, we had a significant decline in the access to the treatment for our patients. This is still true for the entire year of 2020, and we’re still seeing the same trend in 2021.
Most of the priority patients, such as those with cirrhosis or complications of cirrhosis, were still treated because they were in the hospital. But a lot of patients were anxious about coming to the hospital due to the risk of COVID-19 infection, so they mainly stayed at home. And so clearly, screening and treatment declined.