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Hepatitis C testing even more accessible

30 Mar 2023

South Australian Viral Hepatitis Nurses are joining a world-first HCV point-of-care testing program being rolled out nationally in Australia.

Viral Hepati­tis Nurse, Lucy Ral­ton giv­ing a rapid hepati­tis C test to Kat Menz at the Barmera Phar­ma­cy. Pho­to cour­tesy of Hepati­tis SA

The impe­tus behind the pro­gram is the decline in hepati­tis C test­ing and treat­ment after the ini­tial surge fol­low­ing the approval of new treat­ments in 2016.

Point-of-care test­ing is done with a drop of blood processed in a portable machine that pro­vides results with­in an hour. The porta­bil­i­ty means test­ing can be tak­en to where peo­ple go reg­u­lar­ly for oth­er services.

Nation­al Aus­tralian HCV Point of Care Test­ing (HCVPOCT) Project Coor­di­na­tor, David Silk, said around 25 per cent of total test­ing sites are rur­al. For exam­ple in Mur­ray Bridge, South Aus­tralia, there will be test­ing clin­ics in the com­mu­ni­ty as well as at the Moorun­di Abo­rig­i­nal Con­trolled Health Ser­vice. Pan­gu­la Man­na­mur­na in Mount Gam­bier will also be host­ing clinics.

Viral Hepati­tis Nurs­es Ros­alie Altus and Lucy Ral­ton from the South­ern Ade­laide Local Health Net­work (SAL­HN), togeth­er with Hepati­tis SA, have con­nect­ed with local ser­vices to plan reg­u­lar point-of-care test­ing ses­sions in Mur­ray Bridge begin­ning in March.

Mur­ray Bridge is an area with a low­er socio-eco­nom­ic index that’s been deeply affect­ed by drug use in recent years,” said Lucy. Com­pared to Greater Ade­laide, it has a high­er pro­por­tion of unem­ploy­ment and peo­ple look­ing for work as well as peo­ple with a disability.

These are all fac­tors asso­ci­at­ed with a high­er risk of hepati­tis C infection.”

Hepati­tis SA edu­ca­tors pro­vide free edu­ca­tion ses­sions to work­ers in health and com­mu­ni­ty ser­vices and the nurs­es coor­di­nate with ser­vices inter­est­ed in host­ing test­ing clin­ics, to work out the best times and for­mat for them.

Moorundi’s Abo­rig­i­nal Health Clin­i­cal Direc­tor, Beth Hum­mer­ston, thinks hepati­tis C point-of-care test­ing will work well for them, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Mur­ray Bridge as they will soon become a Clean Nee­dle Pro­gram (CNP) site.

Close up of a hepati­tis C point-of-care test in progress. Screen­shot from video by Lisa Carter

Hav­ing a CNP avail­able may pro­vide oppor­tu­ni­ties to talk to peo­ple about hepati­tis C test­ing and is a way of address­ing dis­par­i­ties in health ser­vices for peo­ple who like­ly don’t access health ser­vices reg­u­lar­ly,” she explained.

We have very expe­ri­enced Abo­rig­i­nal Health Prac­ti­tion­ers who can do the test­ing inde­pen­dent­ly. We would be able to offer point-of-care test­ing oppor­tunis­ti­cal­ly, in response to cir­cum­stances. We can be flex­i­ble,” she said.

We hope to even­tu­al­ly take the machine to oth­er com­mu­ni­ties at Raukkan and Vic­tor Harbor.

For peo­ple who test pos­i­tive, we book them with our GPs to ensure the expe­ri­ence is cul­tur­al­ly comfortable.”

Peo­ple who test pos­i­tive in the nurs­es’ com­mu­ni­ty clin­ics can be imme­di­ate­ly referred to their GPs for treat­ment. For those who don’t have a GP, alter­na­tive arrange­ments can be made.

Lucy said metro-based Viral Hepati­tis Nurse Con­sul­tants are expe­ri­enced in work­ing with indi­vid­u­als remote­ly to help them access hepati­tis C test­ing and treatment.

We can dis­cuss results with patients over the phone and arrange for whatever’s need­ed pre and post treat­ment. These days, peo­ple don’t have to trav­el to a major cen­tre to check their hepati­tis C sta­tus or to get treat­ment. In South Aus­tralia, they can just call a Viral Hepati­tis Nurse,” she said.

Rur­al health work­ers through­out Aus­tralia who would like to help their clients access HCV point-of-care test­ing can find out more by call­ing 02 9385 0900 or email hcvpoct@​kirby.​unsw.​edu.​au.