Policy responses to hepatitis C in the Nordic countries: Gaps and discrepant reporting in the Hep-Nordic study
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionSafreed-Harmon, K., Hetherington, K. L., Aleman, S., Alho, H., Dalgard, O., Frisch, T., ... & Hep-Nordic Study Group. (2018). Policy responses to hepatitis C in the Nordic countries: Gaps and discrepant reporting in the Hep-Nordic study. PloS one, 13(1), e0190146. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0190146
Background and aims In the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden), the prevalence of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is relatively low in the general population, but is much higher among people who inject drugs (PWID). We conducted an exploratory study to investigate the extent to which these countries have policies supporting key elements of the public health response that is necessary to achieve the global goal of eliminating HCV as a public health threat. Methods Fourteen stakeholders representing government agencies, medical societies, and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Nordic countries completed a cross-sectional online survey that included 21 policy questions related to national coordination, prevention, testing, linkage to care, and treatment. We summarised the findings in a descriptive analysis, and noted discrepant responses from stakeholders within the same country. Results Stakeholders reported that three of the five study countries have national viral hepatitis strategies, while only Iceland has a national HCV elimination goal. The availability of harm reduction services varies, with opioid substitution therapy provided for the general population throughout all countries, but not needle and syringe programmes. No country has access to anonymous HCV testing in all parts of the country. National HCV treatment guidelines are available in all countries except Finland, and all countries provide publicly funded direct-acting antiviral treatment. Disagreement regarding policies was observed across countries, and CSOs were the stakeholder group that most frequently answered survey questions incorrectly. Conclusion The Nordic region as a whole has not consistently expressed its commitment to tackling HCV, despite the existence of large HCV epidemics among PWID in these countries. Stakeholder alignment and an established elimination goal with an accompanying strategy and implementation plan should be recognised as the basis for coordinated national public health efforts to achieve HCV elimination in the Nordic region and elsewhere.