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Ho Chi Minh City, February 5, 2018—People most at risk of contracting hepatitis C virus (HCV), an infectious disease that can result in serious liver damage and death, will soon be able to access more convenient testing options and information about the disease through a new initiative launched today by the Ho Chi Minh City Provincial AIDS Center (HCMC PAC); international non-profit organization, PATH; Gilead Sciences and private clinics in Ho Chi Minh City.
Up to four percent of the Vietnamese population have evidence of exposure to HCV, with many developing long-term infection. Many people with HCV have no symptoms, but long-term infection can lead to liver damage or even liver cancer. Similar to HIV, the virus is spread through the blood or body fluids of an infected person (such as through unprotected sex or shared needles). People at higher risk of contracting HCV in Vietnam are also similar to those who are at increased risk of HIV, including people who inject drugs (PWID) and men who have sex with men (MSM). Studies have estimated that anywhere from 43 to 99 percent of PWID and approximately 29 percent of MSM have HCV in Vietnam. Transgender women (TGW) are also thought to be at high risk of HCV.
"National guidelines for best practice in the prevention, care, and treatment of HCV were developed and released back in 2016, and antiviral medicines are highly effective," said Dr. Tieu Thi Thu Van, Director of the HCMC PAC. "Those at risk of HIV and living with HIV are at high risk of HCV but most are unware that they have it. The HCMC PAC hopes that this initiative will increase the proportion of people with HCV that know that they have the disease and are accessing treatment if necessary."
The project will enable people to reach quick and easy HCV testing through community-led private clinics, which will use rapid diagnostic tests that require a small amount of blood from the prick of a finger. The process is simple, safe, and painless.
"HCV is a very serious, yet under-addressed, disease that is most prevalent in PWID, MSM, and other key populations affected by HIV," said Dr. Kimberly Green, PATH's program director for HIV, tuberculosis, and noncommunicable diseases in Vietnam. "Most people living with the disease do not know they have it. Community-led HIV services offer a perfect platform for integrating HCV services that will rapidly increase disease awareness, screening, diagnosis, and treatment."
"Gilead is committed to expanding access to HCV treatment, especially in countries with a high HCV burden like Vietnam," said Ben Kamarck, Director for Access Operations and Emerging Markets in Southeast Asia at Gilead Sciences. "We are very pleased to be able to work with PATH and the HCMC PAC to build on the success of the HIV service delivery models to address HCV at the same time." Curative treatment for HCV is available in Vietnam as a result of Gilead's voluntary licensing program, which allows licensed suppliers to sell the most innovative medicines at a significantly reduced cost.
Galant clinic—one of the first lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) friendly clinics in Ho Chi Minh City—is now leading the way once again by providing HCV services.
"HCV is an important issue for our clients, so Galant clinic is looking forward to addressing it by further integrating HCV into our services," shared Dr. Nguyen Quang Manh from Galant clinic. "We will offer screening for clients enrolled in pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP; a daily medication to prevent HIV infection), non-occupational post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), and people living with HIV who are receiving treatment."
Leaders in the PWID, MSM, and TGW communities will also be reaching out to their peers to raise awareness about HCV and promote the new services.
"Of course HIV has a big profile in Vietnam and around the world," explained Hieu from Nu Cuoi, a community-based organization working to support PWID. "But not as many people have heard about or are concerned about HCV. They don't know how it's transmitted, or the damage it can do if left untreated. Nu Cuoi is looking forward to helping raise awareness about this 'silent killer.' We can help make testing for HCV a normal part of taking care of our health, and play our part in stopping this dangerous epidemic."
The project, "Community-based HCV/HIV interventions in Ho Chi Minh City," is supported through funding from Gilead Sciences. For more information, please contact project coordinator, Dr. Tran Thi Huong Lien (firstname.lastname@example.org).