A National Canadian Hepatitis C Strategy
The hepatitis C virus (HCV) was identified in 1989, but didn’t register with Canadians as an important health concern until the early 1990s when it became apparent that up to 160,000 Canadians had contracted HCV through contaminated blood products. Today, HCV has mostly faded from the headlines,and public awareness about this frequently fatal virus has plummeted.
Experts estimate that 250,000 Canadians are infected with HCV, for which there is no vaccine. Up to 80,000 are destined for liver scarring, cancer, and failure. One-third of those with HCV still do not know they have it, and may be unwittingly passing the virus to others. More than 5,000 new infections occur in Canada per year, most frequently among those least equipped to access prevention education, effective intervention and treatment supports.
At the same time, HCV-related costs are about to soar. The slow progression of this largely curable disease among people infected over the past 30 years, including those who have not yet been diagnosed or treated, is expected to result in an explosion of costly liver-related complications.
Responding to the Epidemic, a 2005 document, represents the contribution of Canada’s HCV community to the formulation of an effective Canadian Hepatitis C Strategy. It draws on the insights of 10 community-based organizations involved in HCV related activities, the latest international research from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) and the BC Centre for Disease Control, and other expert opinion to identify critical strategy components. Its recommendations fully support and complement those offered in January 2005 by the Joint Advisory Committee (JAC) to the federal Hepatitis C Program.
Responding to the Epidemic
Since then, advocacy work around getting a Canadian Hepatitis Strategy has continued and the CHS is one of the founding member organizations of Action Hepatitis Canada devoted to pursue this objective.
Action Hepatitis Canada
In Canada, there is currently no national strategy or comprehensive system for care, treatment and prevention of hepatitis B and C. This is unacceptable for a country that prides itself on its publicly-funded universal health care system. To reduce the health and social impact of hepatitis B and C on the liver health of Canadians, we ask federal, provincial and territorial governments to adopt a fully- funded and coordinated national strategy that :
- Promotes prevention of both hepatitis B and C through expanded education, immunization and harm reduction programs all across Canada.
- Improves access to comprehensive care and treatment programs in all areas of the country.
- Increases knowledge and innovation through interdisciplinary research and surveillance to reduce the burden of both hepatitis B and C on Canadians.
- Creates awareness about risk factors, stigma and the need for testing among the general population and at-risk groups.
- Builds capacity through training and recruitment of qualified health professionals.
- Supports communities and community-based groups in developing, delivering and evaluating peer-driven and focused initiatives.
Action Hepatitis Canada (formely known as Canadian Coalition of Organizations Responding to Hepatitis B and C) advocates for such a national strategy to be created and implemented. To learn more about the Coalition and its actions, please visit the web site www.actionhepatitiscanada.ca
In May 2016, the 194 member states of the World Health Organization (WHO), including Canada, adopted the first ever Global Viral Hepatitis Strategy with the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030.
The elimination of HCV across Canada will require federal leadership. An effective national strategy would align and coordinate all of those involved in the prevention and management of HCV towards the common, achievable goal of the elimination of this virus in Canada.
We are calling on our federal government to recognize HCV as an important public health threat that can be eliminated, providing guidance and monitoring progress while allowing the provinces and territories flexibility to address the unique opportunities and challenges they will face.