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WHO Releases First Guidelines on Hepatitis C Self-Testing

NEW YORK ─ The World Health Organization on Thursday released its first guidelines on hepatitis C virus self-testing, recommending the addition of self-tests to testing services for a condition it wants to eradicate as a public health problem by 2030.

The guidelines consist of important considerations for HCV self-testing for policymakers, national programs, and providers and implementers of HCV testing services. Considerations include designing appropriate and context-specific messages, service delivery models, and support tools through engagement with communities; setting up efficient pathways for people who self-test to obtain confirmatory testing and treatment or prevention services; training providers; creating a supportive and enabling policy environment; and using quality-assured products.

The Geneva-based organization said it has also published technical specifications for prequalification of HCV self-testing products, including self-testing kits that are likely to be available soon.

"HIV self-testing has been an effective tool in accelerating progress toward achieving global goals, and many country programs have benefited from the availability of HIV self-testing to support continuity of essential services in the COVID-19 context," Meg Doherty, director of the WHO Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes, said in a statement. "We encourage countries and national programs to start planning for [the] introduction of HCV self-testing as well, especially for priority populations and regions with the greatest gaps in testing coverage."

The development of the HCV self-testing guidelines drew on compelling evidence of the acceptability and usability of HCV self-testing for users and providers in almost a dozen countries from different regions, and confirmation that the great majority of lay users are able to perform HCV self-testing, WHO said.

WHO has set a goal to eliminate HCV as a public health problem by 2030, with targets to diagnose 90 percent of those with HCV and treat 80 percent of those diagnosed. However, an estimated 21 percent of the 58 million people with chronic HCV infection globally were diagnosed as of 2019, and only 9.4 million, or 62 percent of those diagnosed, received direct-acting antiviral treatment between 2015 and 2019, WHO said.

Earlier this month, WHO issued an update to its consolidated guidelines on the detection of tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis, recommending rapid molecular assays as the initial test to diagnose TB instead of sputum smear microscopy.