GEORGE TOWN: The health ministry will give out self-testing kits for Hepatitis C (HCV) from next week, as part of a world-first trial in an attempt to identify the “undiagnosed millions” who may have the virus.
The testing kit will see 700 persons in the country tested through mail-in test kits, where people are required to prick their fingers for a blood sample or an oral test, and send it back for testing.
The pilot project, from August to December, will capitalise on the country’s present HIV self-testing framework via the Jom Test portal. Aside from Malaysia, two other countries – Georgia and Pakistan – were chosen to participate in this pilot project under the World Health Organization (WHO).
The virus, spread through contact with blood from an infected person, can lead to chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, cancer, and death, affecting about 58 million people worldwide, with only about 13% having received treatment to date, reports show.
Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said the self-diagnosis kit would allow those who are not close to a health facility to get themselves tested and receive quick treatment if they are found to be positive.
He said more testing would allow the country to reduce infections, cut down deaths and find the ‘missing millions’ who are living with the virus”, as the HCV was asymptomatic.
“Malaysia is proud to be at the cutting edge of innovations to tackle Hepatitis C and all this is possible because of strong political will.
“Self-testing will allow us to decentralise HCV testing and treatment to as close as possible to the people in the community, and they will stop falling through the
“It is an additional tool option that we can use to ensure equity in our Hepatitis C response,” he said in a webinar yesterday.
The webinar, titled “Hepatitis C can’t wait, Malaysia isn’t waiting” was hosted by the global alliance for diagnostics FIND and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO), Malaysian AIDS Council and the health ministry.
WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and STI programme director Dr Meg Doherty said Malaysia’s swift action should be applauded for being one of the first to take up WHO’s self-testing guidelines for HCV on July 18.
“This has implications for scaling-up testing coverage among key and vulnerable populations as well as among groups with a higher burden on Hepatitis C virus infections and can facilitate national action towards elimination of the disease by 2030,” she said.
FIND CEO Dr Bill Rodriguez said Malaysia was once again leading the way in assessing strategies to defeat the disease and providing critical information for many other countries to follow.
Earlier in June, the country announced conditional approval for the antiviral drug, Ravidasvir, to treat HCV. It is estimated that there are more than 400,000 people living with the virus in the country, but only 1% of them have been treated.
Since the end of 2019, the country has adopted decentralised care for HCV by enabling primary healthcare facilities, such as government hospitals and clinics, to test and treat the disease.-FMT