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.
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.
Adam Cook is a policy researcher at the Canadian Treatment Action Council.
Since 2004 many patient groups and advocacy organizations have observed a day of awareness for viral hepatitis, but it was not until the 63rd annual World Health Assembly in 2010 that the World Health Organization officially declared July 28 as the international day to raise awareness, World Hepatitis Day (WHD). WHD is observed by agencies across the world seeking to address the global epidemic of viral hepatitis that impacts 400 million people worldwide.
Le Blogue de CATIE présente des perspectives et opinions des personnes et organismes qui travaillent ou collaborent bénévolement à la réponse du Canada au VIH et à l’hépatite C.