Malaysia to launch self-testing programme for Hep C

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia has become one of the first countries in the world to embark on a Hepatitis C (HCV) self-testing programme, said Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

The Health director-general said that this would expand access to HCV testing to those who may not be reached by facility-based testing, another feather in the hat of Malaysia’s commitment to Hepatitis C elimination.

“Self-testing will allow us to decentralize HCV testing and treatment to as close as possible to the people in the community, and they will stop falling through the cracks.

“It is an additional tool that we can use to ensure equity in our Hepatitis C response,” he said today (July 27) in a webinar held in conjunction with World Hepatitis Day.

The Health Ministry is partnering with he Malaysian AIDS Council, World Health Organization (WHO), the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative and the global alliance for diagnostics or Find to launch a HCV virus self-testing impact study in Malaysia.

The impact study will build on existing work done for HIV self-testing, via an online platform, and is aimed to test those who may be missed by the usual facility-based testing.

There are an estimated 400,000 people living with HCV in Malaysia, although the majority are unaware that they are infected because of the lack of symptoms until complications set in.

“We cannot sit on our laurels when we have the tools and a cure in hand for the Hepatitis C disease,” said Dr Noor Hisham.

The World Health Organisation had on July 15 released new guidelines that recommended self-testing for HCV as an additional approach to HCV testing services.

The Health Ministry National Head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan said that self-testing gives the opportunity to patients to empower themselves.

“No matter how much you try reaching out to those key populations, there is a stigma that still remains at large in the community. This is going to make a change in efforts to find these missing millions,” he said.

Hepatitis C is a type of liver inflammation that is caused by the Hepatitis C virus and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

The virus is transmitted mainly through blood, with nearly 60% of cases in Malaysia related to drug use through shared needles.

The WHO has a goal of eliminating HCV by 2030.

Since the end of 2019, Malaysia has adopted decentralized care for HCV by enabling primary healthcare facilities to test and treat the disease.

Earlier in June, Malaysia announced the conditional approval for ravidasvir to treat hepatitis C, which was hailed as a milestone and phenomenal achievement by Dr Noor Hisham.

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