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Medical Student Publishes Research on Hepatitis C Treatment in a Homeless Community

September 26, 2019

Molly Ingemi, second year medical student in UMMS-Baystate's PURCH program, co-authored an article on successful hepatitis C virus (HCV) treatment at a Boston community health center for homeless individuals.

The research, published in the International Journal of Drug Policy, showed that high rates of treatment completion and cure (as indicated by the absence of HCV in the blood 24 weeks post-treatment) were achieved by homeless-experienced individuals who initiated HCV treatment at Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP).

HCV is an infectious disease of the liver that can cause a range of illness, from mild flu-like symptoms to severe kidney damage, even death.

Being a Part of Curing People Was Tremendously Rewarding

According to Ingemi, many BHCHP patients struggle with multiple health conditions, most often a combination of substance use disorder, psychiatric illness, and chronic disease. But vastly improved treatment options—pills instead of injections, fewer and milder side effects, and higher effectiveness—created an opportunity to treat many people who were not able to be treated before, she added.

Ingemi's role as care coordinator connected people at risk for HCV to treatment and supported them throughout treatment—including navigating insurance and social barriers to help patients access treatment, and calling or meeting with them weekly to offer adherence support.

Still, a large proportion did not initiate treatment. And individuals with opioid use disorder had lower, although still substantial, rates of cure. The authors conclude that "treatment strategies for homeless-experienced people should focus on improving initial engagement and minimizing reinfection risk following treatment."

The PURCH Program Sounded Like a Perfect Fit

Ingemi said her experience at BCHCP taught her the importance of social determinants of health.

The PURCH track attracted her because it immerses students in the community and focuses on understanding the patient's perspective.

"We cannot effectively provide healthcare to people without considering their social situation," she reflected.

 > Read the full article:  Hepatitis C treatment outcomes among homeless-experienced individuals at a community health centre in Boston

  > Learn more: PURCH Track for Medical Students—How Is It Different?