Every year on July 28, we mark World Hepatitis Day with an event to educate, gather together, and also remember those we have lost from the hepatitis C community. This year, we should have much to celebrate: in early 2017, medications that had previously been unavailable were finally added to some formularies, including Ontario’s. This means that people with certain types of hepatitis C who have been waiting years to access safe, effective medication will finally be able to start treatment and be cured. For many, being cured means avoiding potentially fatal outcomes like liver failure and liver cancer. It also means shedding the burden of carrying a highly stigmatized illness that is often met with ignorance, ostracism and discrimination.
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a major public health problem. Worldwide, about 70 million people are living with hepatitis C virus infection, with a higher prevalence in developing countries. In Canada, 210,753 to 461,517 people are infected with HCV, and an estimated 20 to 40 per cent of infections remain undiagnosed. Those born during the period of 1945 until 1965 have the highest rates of infection and, having acquired the virus decades ago, are now increasingly being diagnosed with serious liver-related illnesses, including liver failure and liver cancer and non-liver related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and kidney disease.
Early this year, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Quebec and Ontario announced the lowering of eligibility requirements for access to public coverage for life-changing hepatitis C drugs, including Epclusa, Zepatier, daclatasvir and asunaprevir. These drugs will be available to those with lower fibrosis scores for the first time (the greater the fibrosis score, the more severe the liver scarring, or cirrhosis, caused by disease.)[i]
The CATIE Blog is written for people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C and hosts the views and opinions of frontline service providers.