As we mark World AIDS Day on December 1, 2.3 million people are living with HIV and hepatitis C co-infection around the world. For HIV positive people, hepatitis C is a leading cause of death, due to a faster progression of the disease and a greater risk of death from cirrhosis and liver cancer without treatment. However, hepatitis C is curable.
In Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is taking an integrated approach to hepatitis C care for people living with HIV by providing free diagnostic tests, treatment with new drugs, and education and counseling services. Recent test results from patients who finished treatment since the start of integrated services one year ago are extremely positive, with a success rate of over 95 percent in curing hepatitis C in patients who are living with HIV.
Shorter treatment with new oral drugs
“Hepatitis C infection can be deadly if untreated, especially for people living with HIV, but these test results remind us that a cure is possible,” says Franking Frias, MSF medical coordinator in Ukraine. “For treatment we use sofosbuvir and daclatasvir, new oral drugs recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) that can cure hepatitis C in as little as 12 weeks with few adverse effects. In comparison, older hepatitis C treatment models use injectable drugs and take at least four times as long.”
The role of peer educators
Psychosocial support also plays an essential role in patient success. People living with HIV and hepatitis C experience stigma in Ukraine and undergoing treatment can be a challenge. Therefore, MSF works with peer educators, who have themselves lived with the disease.
Peer educators help patients manage their care and give advice on how to cope with challenges that may affect their ability to complete treatment, such as discrimination, financial difficulties, and mental and physical hardships.
As peer educator Maksym (name changed) explains: