Hepatitis C Clinic in India Treating Patients for Free in Doctors Without Borders Project

A new clinic that treats hepatitis C in India’s most populous state has provided 356 patients with direct-acting antiviral drugs free of charge.

A new clinic that treats hepatitis C in India’s most populous state has provided 356 patients with direct-acting antiviral drugs free of charge. The center, based at the PL Sharma District Hospital in Meerut, Uttar Pradesh, is part of an initiative established by international humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders and the state’s National Health Mission.

“This is a one-of-its-kind medical project in the state,” said hospital director Dr. PK Bansal. “We at PL Sharma District Hospital are taking the lead in finding an effective model of care for treating those suffering from hepatitis C.”

India accounts for a significant share of global HCV infections because of the country’s large population — more than 1.3 billion. Some 12-18 million people are infected with the liver-attacking virus, according to a July 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Heptology. That study projected that the standard of care at the time would lead to increases in advanced liver disease and liver-related mortality despite decreasing HCV prevalence among India’s population.

Poor medical practices including unsafe blood transfusions and the use of unsterilized equipment by unqualified practitioners are the main causes of HCV in India, according to Doctors Without Borders, which is known internationally as Médecins Sans Frontiéres (MSF). Injecting drug users who share needles also contribute to the nation’s infections.

Although the latest generations of DAAs are manufactured in India and available at much lower costs than elsewhere in the world, treatment is still out of reach for millions of patients across India and other countries, MSF says.

“MSF strongly believes that not only should treatment be accessible but also affordable for everyone,” said MSF Field Coordinator Ghada Khemmisi. “While we ensure both by providing free care in this clinic, we do believe that affordable access to diagnostics and treatment for all is important and this can only happen through concerted efforts of national governments.”

The hepatitis C initiative aims to develop a holistic model of care that includes counselling, health education and training of local health workers. Since January, the clinic has screened almost 1,000 patients, according to MSF.

“The aim of this project is to establish an effective and a simplified model of care and to share best practice for replication by state government,” Khemmisi said.

MSF is starting pilot projects in several high-burden countries to support local governments in establishing hepatitis C programs. The group also advocates for reducing the cost of diagnostics and drugs to increase access to care.

“There is an urgent need to raise awareness about the spread of the disease through unsafe medical practices,” Bansal said. “This will help prevent the spread of hepatitis C and reduce the burden of the disease in the state.”

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