The province announced Sunday that through a “made-in B.C.” strategy, British Columbians will be better protected against the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and better supports will be given to those living with the disease.
To better help government measure the reduction of the viral infection, the province is bringing together frontline agencies to develop a preventative HCV strategy and a “hepatitis-elimination roadmap” which will also include Hepatitis B.
The strategy involves experts from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) and the BC Hepatitis Network.
“Hepatitis C is a curable disease with highly effective drug treatments available to people in British Columbia for free through BC Pharmacare,” health minister Adrian Dix said in a July 30 statement “Our government is committed to keep on taking meaningful action to ensure that better health outcomes are always possible for people who are impacted by the disease and to prevent further HCV transmission among those at risk.”
By strengthening the engagement with community-based organizations and research scientists, Dix says patients and at-risk individuals can gain early access to the treatment, education and prevention.
The strategy involves principles developed by the BC-CfE, an internationally recognized leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It pioneered the “treatment as prevention” strategy for HIV in 2006.
Through this model of care, it was able to demonstrate that early access to HIV testing and anti-retroviral treatment could improve the quality of life of patients and reduce progression to AIDS and AIDS-related deaths, as well as bring new HIV infections in B.C. to the lowest level since the early 1990s.
Collaboration between the BC Centre for Disease Control and the BC-CfE aims to accelerate the rollout of the hepatitis C treatment as prevention, so the spread of the viral infection in the province can be more effectively monitored.
By sharing key relevant data, more people with HCV can be connected to lifesaving testing, treatment, care and support services.
“We have seen the dramatic success of treatment as prevention in transforming the epidemic of HIV in B.C., and by applying the same strategies to hepatitis C, together with this data-sharing agreement with the BCCDC, we can meet B.C.’s HCV-elimination targets by 2030,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, executive director and physician in chief, BC-CfE. “Creating a people-centred, evidence-based approach to hepatitis will not only move us one step closer to a world free of HCV, but strengthen our ability to deliver comprehensive health care in a highly cost-efficient manner so we can contribute to enhance the sustainability of our cherished health-care system.”
The province is also providing $105,000 to the BC Hepatitis Network to co-lead with the BCCDC in the development of a viral hepatitis elimination roadmap, with the support of the BC-CfE.
The BC Hepatitis Network has a newly launched website on the roadmap planning process.
As well, the network offers a confidential peer-led hepatitis information helpline at 1.888.411.7578.
For more information on the roadmap visit: HepFreeBC.ca.
The roadmap will define short-term targets for screening, treatment, engagement in care, and community-based prevention and education, aligning with B.C.’s goal of eliminating hepatitis C infections by 2030.
“BCCDC has been fortunate to collaborate with BC Hepatitis Network for many years, working together to support the community to reduce the impact of viral hepatitis across the province,” said Sofia Bartlett, senior scientist, sexually transmitted and blood borne infections, BCCDC. “The process of creating the B.C. viral hepatitis elimination roadmap will bring together multiple partners across the health system, academic and community, and help us build momentum as we continue our efforts to eliminate the hepatitis C and hepatitis B virus as a public-health threat in B.C. by 2030.”
HCV is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, and can lead to serious health complications. HCV spreads through contaminated blood.
Fatality rates related to HCV are higher than other communicable diseases, including AIDS and tuberculosis, making this virus a significant public-health issue.
An estimated 16,000 people are living with chronic HCV infection in B.C.
On the heels of World Hepatitis Day (July 28), the province says this latest action builds on previous work in B.C. to support people living with HCV.
In 2018, the province made the highly effective direct-acting antiviral treatment fully subsidized for anyone living with chronic hepatitis C under the BC PharmaCare program, regardless of disease severity.
That same year, to reduce the spread of the disease by identifying those who did not know they were infected, approximately 270,000 people in B.C. were also tested for hepatitis C, which was more than double the number of 132,000 in 2011.
In 2019, the province invested $4 million to support the BC-CfE for research and strategies to expand access to life-saving hepatitis C treatment.