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Practitioner’s hepatitis C research earns Gilead Fellowship

Studies of HIV and chronic viral hepatitis have been bolstered through a fellowship program from a research-based biopharmaceutical company.

Gilead Sciences has awarded funding to the largest number of recipients in the Gilead Fellowship Program’s four-year history. In 2016, Gilead will support nine studies, almost double the number of research projects as in previous years. So far, the program has provided $1 million in financial support to 37 research projects.

The group said this year’s studies would support the development and implementation of best practice in the clinical management and treatment of Australians living with HIV and chronic viral hepatitis in the general community, in incarceration, and in primary and secondary clinical settings. One such study will delve into health professionals’ attitudes towards the use of direct-acting antivirals in patients with chronic hepatitis C who now inject drugs.

Study lead and hepatology nurse practitioner Mary Fenech, from the Australasian Hepatology Association, said treatment uptake for hepatitis C is poor. “We do have new medications available for the treatment of hepatitis C, and those medications are extremely effective; however, if we continue to treat the same numbers of patients we currently are treating, we will not see any kind of impact on this virus in the next 20 years.

“From a public health perspective, if we started to treat people who are currently injecting drugs, we would make an impact on the prevalence of this treatable disease, and we could see a reduction in new infections and hopefully at some stage move towards the elimination of chronic hepatitis C.”

Fenech said through the research she hopes to recognise and highlight some general concerns that may be common among health professionals. She said the findings would then be used to inform educational and support activities for healthcare professionals working in this sector to prepare them to “approach this marginalised group of patients who had previously not really accessed, in a meaningful way, tertiary liver clinics".

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