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Can needle and syringe programmes and opiate substitution therapy achieve substantial reductions in hepatitis C virus prevalence? Model projections for different epidemic settings


Correspondence to: Peter Vickerman, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, 15–17 Tavistock Place, London WC1H 9SH, UK. E-mail:



To investigate the impact of scaling-up opiate substitution therapy (OST) and high coverage needle and syringe programmes (100%NSP—obtaining more sterile syringes than you inject) on HCV prevalence among injecting drug users (IDUs).


Hepatitis C virus HCV transmission modelling using UK estimates for effect of OST and 100%NSP on individual risk of HCV infection.


Range of chronic HCV prevalent (20/40/60%) settings with no OST/100%NSP, and UK setting with 50% coverage of both OST and 100%NSP.


Injecting drug users.


Decrease in HCV prevalence after 5–20 years due to scale-up of OST and 100%NSP to 20/40/60% coverage in no OST/100%NSP settings, or from 50% to 60/70/80% coverage in the UK setting.


For 40% chronic HCV prevalence, scaling-up OST and 100%NSP from 0% to 20% coverage reduces HCV prevalence by 13% after 10 years. This increases to a 24/33% relative reduction at 40/60% coverage. Marginally less impact occurs in higher prevalence settings over 10 years, but this becomes more pronounced over time. In the United Kingdom, without current coverage levels of OST and 100%NSP the chronic HCV prevalence could be 65% instead of 40%. However, increasing OST and 100%NSP coverage further is unlikely to reduce chronic prevalence to less than 30% over 10 years unless coverage becomes ≥80%.


Scaling-up opiate substitution therapy and high coverage needle and syringe programmes can reduce hepatitis C prevalence among injecting drug users, but reductions can be modest and require long-term sustained intervention coverage. In high coverage settings, other interventions are needed to further decrease hepatitis C prevalence. In low coverage settings, sustained scale-up of both interventions is needed.