Hepatitis C Allies of Philadelphia granted $2.2 million research grant

Philadelphia, PA – The Hepatitis C Allies of Philadelphia (HepCAP), a program of the Health Federation of Philadelphia (HFP), recently received an $2.2 million research grant from Gilead Sciences, Inc. to create a new initiative designed to improve systems for Hepatitis C (HCV) screening, linkage to care, treatment and cure in order to eliminate Hepatitis C among individuals who use injection drugs. Entitled C Change, the 30 month study will investigate if HCV treatment and cure rates increase due to system enhancements, such as the addition of care navigators which help link patients to care. C Change will also measure patient-centered outcomes to more clearly identify barriers to and facilitators of linkage to care and cure.

The research grant will enable HepCAP to hire navigators to work with eight Philadelphia sites – six Pennsylvania Substance Use Disorder Centers of Excellence (CoE) and two associated sites. CoEs are funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to provide medication assisted treatment for opioid use disorder and aim to increase care coordination and integrate behavioral and physical health. Working closely with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s (PDPH) Hepatitis Program, C Change will track testing and care outcomes at these sites. PDPH will use this data to measure the impacts that this type of intervention can have on a city healthcare ecosystem and the broader implications that it has towards successful elimination of hepatitis C.

“The organizations C Change will work with are located throughout the city, and serve the communities most impacted by the HCV epidemic,” said Hannah Zellman, the program manager for C Change. “Creating full HCV services at each center aligns well with the integrated care model of the CoEs. We can cure HCV, which means that individuals are healthier, and that they cannot transmit the virus. C Change is a critical intervention in our work to eliminate HCV in Philadelphia."

C Change hired five navigators to work within each of the partner organizations. The navigators will work with each CoE to ensure that comprehensive HCV screening and connection to hepatitis treatment services are in place and suited to the specific needs of the site. They will provide direct services to patients to increase screening, testing, linkage to care and cure. The goal is that personal relationship-building and individualized attention will lead to more people being cured of Hepatitis C.

“Philadelphia is one of very few places in the United States with the capacity to produce high quality surveillance data to profile the hepatitis C epidemic. This data produced by our city health department shows that there is a dramatic drop off in care as patients move from testing to cure from hepatitis C, especially amongst people who use injection drugs,” said Jack Hildick-Smith, the governmental co-chair of HepCAP and the viral hepatitis prevention coordinator for the City of Philadelphia. “Navigators are on the ground forming relationships throughout the medical community and identifying gaps to improve the treatment of Hepatitis C care for people who inject drugs in Philadelphia.”

It is estimated that 70 percent of people who inject drugs are infected with Hepatitis C. C Change is poised to make a difference for each individual tested, treated and  assisted along on the path to be cured.

“This country is in the midst of an opioid epidemic and as the number of young individuals who inject drugs increases, we are seeing similar increases in the number of new cases of Hepatitis C infection,” said Dr. Stacey B. Trooskin, the HepCAP community co-chair and the director of viral hepatitis programs for Philadelphia FIGHT. “C Change aims to increase the number of people tested and make connections between care and cure for people who inject drugs in Philadelphia. This will take us one step closer to eliminating HCV in our community.”

“This is an individual level intervention with the potential to reduce disease burden community wide,” added Debra D’Alessandro, HFP’s director of public health training and technical assistance. “By providing navigator support, C Change aims to reduce barriers to completing HCV treatment, which will result in improved long-term health outcomes and less overall exposure to Hepatitis C in our city.”

For more information about C Change please contact Hannah Zellman at hzellman@healthfederation.org. For more information about HepCap visit www.hepcap.org.

About HepCAPHepCAP is a citywide collective dedicated to improving the continuum of hepatitis C prevention, diagnosis, care and support services in Philadelphia.

About Health Federation of Philadelphia: The Health Federation of Philadelphia serves as a keystone supporting a network of Community Health Centers as well as the broader base of public and private-sector organizations that deliver health and human services to vulnerable populations. We promote community health by improving access to and quality of health care; by identifying, testing and implementing solutions to health disparities; and by providing training and technical assistance to help other organizations operate more efficiently and effectively.