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]
My daughter has a smartphone cover that says: “We’re all mad here”. It’s from Alice in Wonderland. I like it; and when it comes to hepatitis C treatment and pricing, it’s quite on point.
In 2014, Canada and the rest of the world turned a miraculous corner – a cure for viral hepatitis C was on the market. Wonderful and amazing. Why? Well, viral hepatitis C is the only chronic viral infection that now has a cure – that is, a cure for virtually everyone, with a cure rate of 95 per cent.
Hepatitis C is curable, reads the script; time and time again I hear this said, have read it, and say it myself. This is great news and a reality for more people than ever before.
Does this mean that the job is done? I suppose it depends on one’s perspective. As I listened to members of the science research community speak recently, it is “done and dusted.” “Problem solved,” the headlines will read. Okay, maybe no headlines but a mention on page 4 with a minor piece in the late evening news, even though this may be the biggest news in medical science in decades.
I had the honour of attending the recent and first-ever World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow, Scotland from September 2-4, 2015. What a treat it was to come together with hundreds of other people from around the globe to discuss the often ignored health issue of viral hepatitis. Here I was, “amongst my people,” talking like crazy about viral hepatitis as if it were important or something. How new and novel, because here in Canada viral hepatitis is the conversation we never have, despite the fact that at least 250,000 Canadians are affected by it.
The CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.