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Barriers to Scaling Up Hepatitis C Treatment in Malaysia

While the availability of generic direct-acting antivirals opens the door for large-scale treatment, the care for people living with hepatitis C virus (HCV) in Malaysia is shifting toward a tripartite partnership between the public health system, correctional settings and civil society organizations. A study, published in BMC Public Health, aimed to explore the barriers to scaling up HCV treatment in Malaysia from the perspective of key stakeholders.

Eighteen focus-group discussions were conducted with 180 individuals, who actively engaged in coordinating, executing or supporting the implementation of the national strategic plan for HCV. An analytical framework was adapted to guide the data collection and thematic analysis. It covered four key aspects of HCV treatment: geographical accessibility, availability, affordability and acceptability.

Movement restrictions in times of COVID-19 outbreaks and being marginalized translated into barriers to treatment access in people living with HCV. Barriers to treatment initiation in health and correctional settings included limited staffing and capacity; disruption in material supply; silos mentality and unintegrated systems; logistical challenges for laboratory tests; and insufficient knowledge of care providers. Although no-cost health services were in place, concerns over transportation costs and productivity loss also continued to suppress the treatment uptake. Limited disease awareness, along with the disease-related stigma, further lowered the treatment acceptability.

The study disclosed a series of supply- and demand-side barriers to expanding the treatment coverage among people living with HCV in Malaysia. The findings call for strengthening inter-organizational collaborations to overcome the barriers.

Full study results can be accessed here.