In a significant step towards improving healthcare accessibility for vulnerable populations, The Living Room - in collaboration with UNSW Sydney University and the UNSW Kirby Institute - is trialling hepatitis C (HCV) Point-of-Care Testing.

This trial aims to streamline the process of testing, diagnosing and treating hepatitis C for people experiencing homelessness, ultimately contributing to the reduction of health inequity in the community.

Despite the availability of an effective and affordable cure for hepatitis C, statistics show that more than 115,000 people in Australia were estimated to be living with HCV as of 2020 [1]. Shockingly, 1 in 5 people with chronic hepatitis C remain undiagnosed or unaware of their infection [2] - emphasising the need for innovative approaches to testing and diagnosis.

However, a major hurdle to increasing testing and treatment is the multi-step process required for confirming active infections. This becomes increasingly complex when considering the inequalities that lead to a lack of equitable health care for people experiencing homelessness and disadvantage.

The Living Room is stepping up to address this challenge by partnering with UNSW Sydney University and the UNSW Kirby Institute to trial a game-changing point-of-care testing program. This initiative not only aims to increase hepatitis C testing, but also seeks to provide accessible and equitable healthcare for those who may not have reliable access to mainstream health services.

The Point-of-Care testing being trialled includes a one-minute HCV antibody test and RNA test, capable of detecting active hepatitis C virus infection within just 1-hour. The testing process involves a simple finger prick to collect a small blood sample. That sample is then analysed on-site, and the person receives their test result within an hour. In cases where the result comes back positive, treatment can be initiated during the same visit, ensuring immediate care and support.

This breakthrough technology enables a same-visit diagnosis and treatment approach, eliminating the weeks-long wait to receive test results. For people experiencing homelessness, or those who are unable to access regular healthcare services - this is a game-changer.

Training is currently being rolled out across our team of multi-disciplinary workers to increase testing capacities and conduct quick and accurate testing through street-based outreach programs, ensuring that people seeking help can receive prompt and comprehensive care.

By providing accessible, same-visit testing and treatment, this not only contributes to reducing the burden of hepatitis C but is a crucial step towards addressing health inequity in our community. 

For more information about The Living Room and other innovative initiatives, please click here.

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Sources: [1] Romero N, McCulloch K, Allard N, MacLachlan JH, Cowie BC. 'National Surveillance for Hepatitis B Indicators: Measuring the progress towards the targets of the National Hepatitis B Strategy – Annual Report 2019' Melbourne: WHO Collaborating Centre for Viral Hepatitis, The Doherty Institute (2020) [2] Hepatitis Australia, 'Australia Can’t Wait to Eliminate Hepatitis!' Fact Sheet (2023)