Rosie Duffield, the MP for Canterbury, visited The Hepatitis C Trust's outreach testing van outside of Catching Lives Day Centre in Canterbury on Friday. Staff and volunteers spoke to Rosie about the challenge of finding those living with an undiagnosed infection of hepatitis C, the impact of living with the virus and the opportunity the new treatments provide to achieve elimination. On the day of Rosie's visit, ten individuals were tested, with two found to be positive and provided with information and support on accessing treatment.
The mobile testing van is part of a joint initiative run by The Hepatitis C Trust and King’s College Hospital which will see the mobile testing van conducting outreach testing across Kent and in Central London for 12 months. Trained staff conduct instant finger-prick tests for blood-borne viruses on the van, and clinical staff are on-site to ensure anyone testing positive is referred into treatment immediately.
Public Health England estimates that around 5,000 people in Kent are living with hepatitis C, with at least 40-50% of those undiagnosed. A majority of those infected will have contracted the virus through injecting drug use, and the proportion of people who inject drugs who are infected with the virus is above average in Kent.
Rosie Duffield, MP for Canterbury, said: “Since the arrival of new treatments for hepatitis C, we have seen encouraging progress in England with deaths resulting from hepatitis C falling for the first time in a decade in 2016-17. However, we know that those who are most vulnerable are often least aware of hepatitis C and least likely to access testing and treatment. With a higher than average proportion of people who inject drugs in Kent infected with hepatitis C, I am delighted to support this outreach initiative which aims to connect people to treatment and prevent further transmission.”
Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of The Hepatitis C Trust, said: “With revolutionary treatments available to all through the NHS, we have an extraordinary opportunity to eliminate hepatitis C in the near future if we can dispel misconceptions and minimise barriers to testing and treatment. We know that taking testing to where people already are and eliminating the need for hospital appointments is crucial to reaching vulnerable at-risk populations, and I hope to see similar community outreach initiatives spreading across the country. There is no reason that testing cannot be conducted by any trained service worker, and community outreach will be essential to ensuring all those currently undiagnosed are tested, treated and cured."