Scottish Government commits to eliminating hepatitis C six years before WHO target

Today, the Scottish Government announced plans to eliminate hepatitis C in Scotland six years ahead of the World Health Organisation’s target of 2030, which it signed up to three years ago.

This commitment follows recent data published by Health Protection Scotland which shows that treatment targets for hepatitis C are being exceeded. Scotland treated 609 more people than its goal of 2,000 last year, though with targets set to increase to 2,500 people treated in 2019/20 and to 3,000 people treated annually from 2020/21 onwards, this increase will need to continue.

21,000 people are living with hepatitis C in Scotland, and so are at an increased risk of fatal liver disease and cancer. To successfully ‘eliminate’ hepatitis C as a public health threat according to the World Health Organisation’s definition, Scotland will have to treat 80 per cent of these people.

However, without the elimination strategy promised in January 2018 and no action plan to support this new ambition, the Scottish Government will need a concerted effort to reach the 2024 target. During the inquiry preceding The Hepatitis C Trust’s 2018 report Eliminating Hepatitis C in Scotland: A Call to Action, there was agreement among experts that not enough progress was being made to tackle hepatitis C in Scotland, despite the country previously being seen as a global leader in the area.

Figures from last year show that, although testing rates have remained broadly the same, diagnosis levels are at their lowest in more than 20 years. Far from indicating that there are fewer people to treat, this data suggests that we are currently not looking in the right places to find the 10,500 people estimated to be living with hepatitis C undiagnosed.

Ensuring that the 50 per cent of people living with an undiagnosed infection of hepatitis C in Scotland are identified and supported to access treatment is going to be Scotland’s biggest challenge to achieving its goal. The #BeHepCFree targeted social media campaign recently launched by Hepatitis Scotland and six NHS Health Boards is a good example of the awareness-raising activities we would like to see more of.

In addition, the health boards which coordinate hepatitis C care need to have sufficient information-sharing, partnerships, and support to allow the development of community outreach services which would target those most likely to be at risk of transmission.

Petra Wright, Scottish Officer for The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “We welcome the Scottish Government’s bold ambition to eliminate hepatitis C by 2024.

“While recent treatment figures are encouraging, elimination within the next five years will require a significant upscaling of efforts to find those as yet undiagnosed. A strategy with detailed plans to deliver on specific targets and a monitoring framework is long over-due and should be published as soon as possible.

“We hope the Scottish Government will support this new goal with a full plan of action and financial backing to ensure elimination is achieved.”