Background: To eliminate hepatitis C, Rwanda is conducting national mass screenings and providing to people with chronic hepatitis C free access to Direct Acting Antivirals (DAAs). Until 2020, prescribers trained and authorized to initiate DAA treatment were based at district hospitals, and access to DAAs remains expensive and geographically difficult for rural patients. We implemented a mobile clinic to provide DAA treatment initiation at primary-level health facilities among people with chronic hepatitis C identified through mass screening campaigns in rural Kirehe and Kayonza districts.
Methods: The mobile clinic team was composed of one clinician authorized to manage hepatitis, one lab technician, and one driver. Eligible patients received same-day clinical consultations, counselling, laboratory tests and DAA initiation. Using clinical databases, registers, and program records, we compared the number of patients who initiated DAA treatment before and during the mobile clinic campaign. We assessed linkage to care during the mobile clinical campaign and assessed predictors of linkage to care. We also estimated the cost per patient of providing mobile services and the reduction in out-of-pocket costs associated with accessing DAA treatment through the mobile clinic rather than the standard of care.
Results: Prior to the mobile clinic, only 408 patients in Kirehe and Kayonza had been initiated on DAAs over a 25-month period. Between November 2019 and January 2020, out of 661 eligible patients with hepatitis C, 429 (64.9%) were linked to care through the mobile clinic. Having a telephone number and complete address recorded at screening were strongly associated with linkage to care. The cost per patient of the mobile clinic program was 29.36 USD, excluding government-provided DAAs. Providing patients with same-day laboratory tests and clinical consultation at primary-level health facilities reduced out-of-pocket expenses by 9.88 USD.
Conclusion: The mobile clinic was a feasible strategy for providing rapid treatment initiation among people chronically infected by hepatitis C, identified through a mass screening campaign. Compared to the standard of care, mobile clinics reached more patients in a much shorter time. This low-cost strategy also reduced out-of-pocket expenditures among patients. However, long-term, sustainable care would require decentralization to the primary health-centre level.
Keywords: Hepatitis C; Mobile clinic; Rural health; Rwanda.