The advent of highly effective antiviral regimens will make the eradication of hepatitis C in high-income countries such as the United States technically feasible. But eradicating hepatitis C will require escalating our response to the epidemic in key domains, including surveillance and epidemiology, prevention, screening, care and treatment, policy, research, and advocacy. Surveillance must be nimble enough to quickly assess the magnitude of new transmission patterns as they emerge. Basic prevention strategies - community-based outreach and education, testing and counseling, and access to sterile injection equipment and opioid substitution therapies - must be scaled up and adapted to target groups in which new epidemics are emerging. All adults should be screened for hepatitis C, but special efforts must focus on groups with increased prevalence through community outreach and rapid testing. Government, industry, and payers must work together to assure full access to health services and antiviral drugs for everyone who is infected. Access to the new regimens must not be compromised by excessively high prices or arbitrary payer restrictions. Partnerships must be forged between hepatitis providers and programs that serve people who inject illicit drugs. Healthcare providers and systems, especially primary care practitioners, need education and training in treating hepatitis C and caring for substance-using populations. Services must be provided to the disadvantaged and stigmatized members of society who bear a disproportionate burden of the epidemic. Environments must be created where people who use drugs can receive prevention and treatment services without shame or stigma. Action is needed to end the policy of mass incarceration of people who use drugs, reduce the stigma associated with substance use, support the human rights of people who use drugs, expand social safety net services for the poor and the homeless, remove the legal barriers to hepatitis C prevention, and build public health infrastructure to reach, engage, and serve marginalized populations. Governments must take action to bring about these changes. Public health agencies must work with penal institutions to provide prevention and treatment services, including antiviral therapy, to those in need in jails and prisons or on probation or parole. Research is needed to guide efforts in each of these domains. Strong and sustained political advocacy will be needed to build and sustain support for these measures. Leadership must be provided by physicians, scientists, and the public health community in partnership with community advocates and people living with or at risk for hepatitis C. Eliminating hepatitis C from the United States is possible, but will require a sustained national commitment to reach, test, treat, cure, and prevent every case. With strong political leadership, societal commitment, and community support, hepatitis C can be eradicated in the United States. If this is to happen in our lifetimes, the time for action is now. This article forms part of a symposium in Antiviral Research on "Hepatitis C: next steps toward global eradication."
Keywords: Antiviral therapy; Disease eradication; Epidemiology; Hepatitis C; Prevention; Social determinants of health.
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