High costs of direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) have led health-care insurers to limit access worldwide. Using a natural experiment, we evaluated the impact of removing fibrosis stage restrictions on hepatitis C (HCV) treatment initiation rates among people living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and then examined who was left to be treated.
Using data from the Canadian HIV-HCV Coinfection Cohort, we applied a difference-in-differences approach. Changes in treatment initiation rates following the removal of fibrosis stage restrictions were assessed using a negative binomial regression with generalized estimating equations. The policy change was then specifically assessed among people who inject drugs (PWID). We then identified the characteristics of participants who remained to be treated using a modified Poisson regression.
Between 2010–2018, there were a total of 585 HCV initiations among 1130 eligible participants. After removing fibrosis stage restrictions, DAA initiations increased by 1.8-fold (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.3–2.4) controlling for time-invariant differences and secular trends. Among PWID the impact appeared even stronger, with an adjusted incidence rate ratio of 3.6 (95% CI 1.8–7.4). However, this increased treatment uptake was not sustained. At 1 year following universal access, treatment rates declined to 0.8 (95% CI .5–1.1). Marginalized participants (PWID and those of indigenous ethnicity) and those disengaged from care were more likely to remain HCV RNA positive.
After the removal of fibrosis restrictions, HCV treatment initiations nearly doubled immediately, but this treatment rate was not sustained. To meet the World Health Organization elimination targets, the minimization of structural barriers and adoption of tailored interventions are needed to engage and treat all vulnerable populations.