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Original article

Vol. 154 No. 2 (2024)

Hepatitis C prevalence and cascade of care among patients in the decentralised opioid agonist therapy programme of the canton of St Gallen, Switzerland: a cross-sectional study

Cite this as:
Swiss Med Wkly. 2024;154:3352


BACKGROUND: To eliminate chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection by 2030, 90% of those infected must be diagnosed and 80% treated. In Switzerland, >40% of the estimated 32,000 infected people are still undiagnosed. In the canton of St Gallen, HCV prevalence and cascade of care have only been studied in the centralised opioid agonist therapy (OAT) setting (institutions), although about 80% of OAT patients are treated decentrally (general practitioner [GP] or pharmacy).

AIM: To describe HCV prevalence and cascade of care among patients in the decentralised OAT programme of the canton of St Gallen, Switzerland, and compare it to contemporaneous data from the centralised setting.

METHODS: For each patient receiving his/her OAT from a GP or pharmacy on 1 April 2021, the cantonal medical office sent a questionnaire to the prescribing GP. Patient characteristics, HCV antibody (Ab)/RNA screening uptake, HCV Ab/RNA prevalence and HCV treatment uptake were obtained and compared to those of patients of the Medizinisch-soziale Hilfsstelle 1 in St Gallen (centralised setting).

RESULTS: Of the 563 OAT patients under the care of 127 GPs, 107 patients from 41 GPs could be analysed (median age: 48 years [IQR: 40–56]; ongoing intravenous drug use: 25%; OAT provider: 66% GP, 34% pharmacy). HCV Ab screening uptake was 68% (73/107) with an HCV Ab prevalence of 68% (50/73) among those tested. Of the HCV Ab-positive patients, 84% (42/50) were HCV RNA-tested, among whom 57% (24/42) were viraemic. HCV treatment uptake was 83% (20/24), with 95% (19/20) achieving a sustained virological response. Non-uptake of HCV screening and treatment tended to be higher among patients receiving OAT at the pharmacy vs at the GP’s office: 37% vs 26% (p = 0.245) for screening and 30% vs 7% (p = 0.139) for treatment. The proportion never HCV Ab-tested and the proportion of HCV Ab-positives never HCV RNA-tested was significantly higher in the decentralised compared to the centralised setting: 32% vs 3% (p <0.001) never Ab-tested and 16% vs 0% (p = 0.002) never RNA-tested. In contrast, HCV treatment uptake (83% vs 78%), sustained virological response rate (95% vs 100%) and residual HCV RNA prevalence among the HCV Ab-positive (12% vs 14%) were comparable for both settings.

CONCLUSION: In the decentralised OAT setting of the canton of St Gallen, HCV Ab prevalence is high. Since HCV Ab and RNA screening uptake are markedly lower than in the centralised setting, potentially >40% of patients with chronic HCV are not diagnosed yet. HCV screening in the decentralised setting needs improvement, e.g. by increasing awareness and simplifying testing. High HCV treatment uptake and cure rates are possible in centralised and decentralised settings.


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