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Regional experts discuss post-pandemic care models to support elimination of viral hepatitis

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Third annual B-Connected event
Viral hepatitis is the seventh leading cause of death in the world, with HBV being the most widespread.

Gilead Sciences recently hosted the third edition of ‘B- Connected’, an annual event that brings together disease experts in the management of viral hepatitis, primarily hepatitis B (HBV) and C (HCV). This year’s event followed a hybrid format which saw in-person attendance at live events in Dubai and Jeddah, with global attendees from the UAE, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, China, U.S., Turkey, Germany, Korea, Spain, and Italy convening over virtual platforms in line with the latest COVID-19 safety guidelines.

The event series seeks to close current gaps in epidemiological or health economic studies on chronic HBV in the region. The burden of viral hepatitis in the Middle East is considered high, based on clinical observation and deaths from chronic HBV complications.

Among the highlights of the event, Dr Faisal Sanai, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Transplant Hepatologist at King Abdulaziz Medical City, Jeddah discussed a ten-point policy framework which would start with a thorough assessment of the burden of the disease and economic impact of HBV. This would then support the implementation of a comprehensive, measurable, and applicable referral pathway for linkage of primary care physicians to specialists. Other points within the framework include the addition of specific checkpoints in the referral pathway to ensure successful patient transition and the use of key performance indicators to assess the referral pathway.

Further action points within the framework include the design and establishment of a tracking system in association with the Ministry of Health to monitor HBV patients (e-tracking), the implementation of age-targeted screening (for populations over 30 years of age), alongside the customisation of screening campaigns as per specific regional needs across the Kingdom.

Within this framework, targets and incentives would also be set up for laboratories that are screening for HBV with the creation of free e-modules for HCPs and specifically for primary care physicians (PCPs) who may often serve as the first point of contact for HBV patients. Medical education through CME (Continuous Medical Education) credits upon module completion is also being prioritised. The framework was rounded off by a call for an increase of awareness for HBV patients through counselling sessions.

Over the two days, experts also joined keynote sessions, panel discussions and open Q&As that focused on advancing patient-centric strategies, also addressing the various roadblocks that are currently preventing optimized patient outcomes.

Dr Faisal Aba-Alkhail, President of the Saudi Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and Transplantation, King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, Riyadh said, “We need to sustain our trajectory towards supporting the healthcare system in KSA in eliminating hepatitis completely by 2030, in line with the goals of the World Health Organization. The proposed framework will not only support elimination, but also streamline medical education, patient awareness, screening, and the establishment of a national level patient registry.”

Focus on screening campaigns

The pre-engagement survey in KSA outlined that implementing screening campaigns are the highest priority (78 per cent). Key touchpoints in the screening model discussed included premarital screening, pre-employment, blood donors, pregnant women, family members, intimate contacts of infected; in-patient procedures; initiation of immunosuppressant therapy or pre-cancer or pre-transplant; health care workers and medical students.

Dr Sameer Alawadhi is a Consultant Physician and Head of Gastroenterology at Rashid Hospital in Dubai and President of the Emirates Gastroenterology Society, added, “It is important for us to collectively identify and share best-practice learnings and analyse together the challenges that patients infected with hepatitis are facing in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered the care model of patients suffering from hepatitis, especially screening campaigns. Elimination models will need to be redesigned to circumvent these challenges that are unique to every country.”

Frederico Silva, General Manager, Gilead Sciences, Middle East highlighted, “We are committed to ensuring that our breakthroughs are advancing global health and creating possibilities. Within HCV, we have delivered four curative treatments in less than four years. Similarly, innovation has enabled HBV to become more of a chronic disease with the life expectancy of patients significantly increased. To ensure the best patient outcomes, Gilead frequently collaborates with industry partners, including healthcare providers to support patients with access to treatment- working with governments, patient organizations, payers, and healthcare providers to increase awareness, drive screening and facilitate linkage to care. This event series has been supporting us with establishing and growing a patient-focused ecosystem.”

Viral hepatitis kills around 1·5 million people worldwide every year. The World Health Organization has set the goal of eradicating hepatitis B and C by 2030.

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