KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is on track to achieving the World Health Organisation's (WHO) goal of eliminating hepatitis C by 2030, said Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.

He said despite facing challenges, Malaysia had made great strides in combating the disease, including by actively screening for the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and going out to the community to find patients.

"This is an ongoing effort as seen in the MOH (Health Ministry), FIND (the global alliance for diagnostics), DNDi (not-for-profit research and development organisation Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative) head-start study which catalysed the decentralisation of screening and treatment of hepatitis C to the primary healthcare clinics (Klinik Kesihatan)," he said in his special address in a webinar session today.

The webinar, themed "Hepatitis C can't wait, Malaysia isn't waiting", was organised by FIND and DNDi, with support from WHO, MOH and the Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC).

Dr Noor said although WHO had targeted to eliminate the disease by 2030, only about 10 to 15 per cent of the world's affected population had access to hepatitis C treatment.

He said Malaysia had taken important steps to boost access to affordable HCV treatments by negotiating with pharmaceutical companies and using the law to ensure affordable access.

"This combination of increasing access to testing and to cure is fundamental to our efforts to reach WHO goals, (which are to) reduce infections, decrease deaths, finding the missing millions and diagnose patients, and treat almost all eligible patients, putting us on the path to eliminate HCV by 2030," he said.

According to MOH Head of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan in a virtual press conference on June 14, more than 10,000 patients in Malaysia have been cured of HCV after combining a new drug, Ravidasvir, with an existing affordable direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medication, Sofosbuvir, within three to six months of treatment.

Dr Noor Hisham said Malaysia is now exploring how to further increase access to HCV testing and is one of the first countries in the world to embark on an HCV self-testing pilot programme to expand access to HCV testing to those who may not be reached by facility-based testing.

He said self-testing will allow healthcare workers to decentralise HCV testing and treatment to as close as possible to the people in the community.

"We cannot sit on our laurels when we have the tools and a cure in hand for the hepatitis C disease. We cannot wait for others to take care of our own problems.

"We need to find our own solutions. We need to take responsibility whether COVID-19, dengue, malaria or cancers; partnerships as demonstrated on HCV can bring the solutions that we need at the price that we can afford," he said.

World Hepatitis Day is observed each year on July 28 to raise awareness of viral hepatitis, an inflammation of the liver that causes severe liver disease and hepatocellular cancer.

WHO mentioned that there are five main strains of the hepatitis virus, which are A, B, C, D and E, with hepatitis B and C being the most common which resulted in 1.1 million deaths and three million new infections per year.