A pilot study to expand treatment of chronic hepatitis C in resource-limited settings
The past five years have seen a revolution in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C, as short duration oral regimens of direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs), with nearly 100% cure rates for all genotypes, have replaced longer courses of ribavirin and injected interferon. Although initially very expensive, these DAAs are now becoming available in generic equivalents in countries with large numbers of chronically infected people, such as India. However, a number of obstacles may hinder the delivery of these drugs in resource-limited settings, including lack of access to diagnostic testing and the restriction of treatment to a small number of medical specialists. New approaches are therefore needed to make DAAs available to the estimated 71 million infected people, many of whom disproportionately live in low- or middle-income countries. A recent pilot study (ASCEND) of hepatitis C management in a low-income population in Washington, D.C., demonstrated that trained nurse practitioners, primary care physicians and hepatologists were equally successful in diagnosing and treating patients, indicating that such an approach might be successful in resource-limited regions of the world. Members of the Global Virus Network have received funding to carry out a similar training project in a region of India with a high prevalence of hepatitis C. This paper reviews the challenges of delivering DAA therapy in low- and middle-income countries, describes plans for performing and evaluating the effectiveness of a training program in India, and discusses future needs for the eventual elimination of hepatitis C.