The Canadian Network on Hepatitis C (CanHepC) is leading a national effort to develop a consensus blueprint to meet the World Health Organization’s hepatitis C elimination targets by 2030. The goal of the blueprint is to guide various stakeholders with specific and measurable objectives on how to address hepatitis C in different Canadian contexts. I’m excited for the initial draft of the blueprint, coming out this fall, as it will greatly impact my work.
Canada is one of 194 countries that endorsed the World Health Organization’s Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis in 2016, committing to – among other things – the elimination of viral hepatitis as a major public health threat by 2030.
But what does eliminating viral hepatitis mean in practice? The recent Global Hepatitis Summit in Toronto from June 14 to 17, 2018, brought together researchers, healthcare providers, and public health practitioners from around the world to try to answer this question. Presenters shared the latest research findings, marked which countries are on track to meet the targets, and discussed what is needed in the rest of the world to get to elimination.
As deaths from many communicable diseases continue to decline globally, deaths caused by viral hepatitis have now surpassed all other chronic infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Yet it is one of the few global health threats with easy solutions. Highly effective vaccines exist for hepatitis A and B. We now have a cure for hepatitis C. With these tools at our disposal, why aren’t we seeing an impact on the epidemic?
The last seven years have seen a whirlwind of hepatitis C virus (HCV) drug development. Each new treatment is generally more potent than the last. The latest treatments approved for HCV in Canada this week include Maviret (made by AbbVie) and Vosevi (made by Gilead). Clinical trials of these treatments, which people take in pill form, resulted in high rates of cure (usually greater than 95 per cent) with few serious side effects. Although it will be six months or more before these drugs ascend to provincial, territorial and other formularies, their approval signals that the end of drug development for HCV is in sight.
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 CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.