Hepatitis C treatment and resources are changing Islanders’ lives
Expanded hepatitis C treatment and resources are bringing Prince Edward Island closer to its goal of eliminating the disease from the province by 2025.
The provincial government’s balanced 2018-19 operating budget includes approximately $2 million to expand the Hepatitis C Drug Program and hire dedicated resources. This will allow Health PEI to enhance access to curative medication, prevention, and follow-up care. Acquired through contact with infected blood, the hepatitis C virus (HCV) is an infection of the liver affecting approximately 550 Islanders.
“In years past, a hepatitis C diagnosis was a stressful and lifelong struggle, but today Islanders living with this now-curable virus have enhanced supports and multiple treatment options,” Health and Wellness Minister Robert Mitchell said.
“All Islanders diagnosed with hepatitis C have greater access to affordable life-saving and life-changing treatment – regardless of the genotype of disease – to achieve a cure and improve their quality of life.”
Moving forward, Health PEI is also taking a proactive approach to addressing and eliminating the presence of hepatitis C in the province. This approach includes adding dedicated staff -- including a hepatitis C coordinator and registered nurse -- and establishing an advisory committee of clinical experts that will guide, inform, and support ongoing development and implementation of the provincial treatment and elimination strategy.
A research and evaluation program will also be developed as part of the strategy to measure the health outcomes of Islanders.
Under the current 10-year hepatitis C management and treatment strategy, Prince Edward Island expects to effectively eliminate the presence of the virus within the province by 2025 (ahead of the World Health Organization’s target of 2030).
“Prince Edward Island has been progressive in developing and investing in a provincial HCV treatment program that is now transitioning to an elimination strategy,” said Dr. Lisa Barrett, clinician scientist with the division of infectious diseases at the QE II Health Sciences Centre and HCV medical advisor to Health PEI. “They are thinking beyond medications and treatment, expanding the HCV focus to prevention and wellness, and that leadership is essential to elimination. Prince Edward Island is definitely regarded as a leader in innovative coordinated approaches to HCV care in Canada.”
"Prince Edward Island continues to be a provincial leader in Canada, ensuring that its residents are diagnosed and linked to hepatitis C care and treatment," says Action Hepatitis Canada’s co-chair Gerard Yetman. "To see a province committing to elimination, and dedicating resources to developing a coordinated plan, is something we would like to see other provinces follow in the near future,"
Building key partnerships with community groups and organizations into the strategy that support moving forward with treatment and elimination of hepatitis C is a cornerstone to successfully supporting Islanders diagnosed with the disease and those at risk of acquiring it.
Later this month, Health PEI is partnering with the Chief Public Health Office, PEERS Alliance, and the Upper Room Soup Kitchen in Charlottetown to offer a free hepatitis C screening and an information clinic. All Islanders are invited to get tested, no appointment is necessary. For more information, please call 1-902-566-2437.
The expansion of the Hepatitis C Drug Program was made possible through an innovative partnership with medication provider AbbVie Corporation.
“AbbVie would like to congratulate the province of Prince Edward Island for their effective and forward-thinking hepatitis C elimination strategy,” said Stéphane Lassignardie, general manager of AbbVie Canada. “We are proud to call ourselves partners in this journey, addressing a critical unmet need for people living with this disease.”
For more information about Health PEI’s drug programs, including the Hepatitis C Drug program, visit https://www.princeedwardisland.ca/en/information/health-pei/drug-programs.
In February 2015, Prince Edward Island became the first province in Canada to offer a hepatitis C management and treatment strategy, with the goal of virtually eliminating the presence of the life-threatening liver disease.
What was available before
A hepatitis C treatment option has been available since 2015 through Health PEI’s Hepatitis C Drug Program. It helps individuals diagnosed with genotype 1 of the disease, which is carried by approximately 65 to 70 percent of Islanders diagnosed with the hepatitis C.
Over the past three years, more than 150 Islanders diagnosed with hepatitis C genotype 1 have completed treatment and are now testing negative for the virus. With proper treatment, the cure rate is 95 to 100 percent, with little-to-no side effects.
What is available now
Recently, the Hepatitis C Drug Program was expanded to include treatment options for those diagnosed with the other five hepatitis C genotypes. This ensures that there are no restrictions to accessing affordable life-saving and life-changing treatment or retreatment as needed. So far, 28 Islanders have since started treatment with this new medication.
About hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a serious, communicable disease that is spread through direct contact with the blood of a person living with the virus.
- It is estimated that approximately 250,000 Canadians have chronic hepatitis C infection, of which approximately 550 Islanders are suspected to be infected.
- Symptoms may include fatigue, jaundice, abdominal pain and joint pain. In some people, it can cause liver damage (cirrhosis) or liver cancer.
- Once someone is successfully treated and cured of hepatitis C infection, they are no longer able to pass the disease to others.
- Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C infection.