Hepatitis Can’t Wait is the theme of World Hepatitis Day in 2021.
In 2020, Hepatitis C (HCV) was one of the many public health issues that were pushed out of the way, in order to make room and resources for the most urgent one we were faced with - COVID19.
18 plus months later, we’re at the second World Hepatitis Day of the COVID era. As we get closer to a new normal and British Columbia’s “grand re-opening”, we must redouble our efforts in the fight towards viral hepatitis elimination.
In the last 5 years, Canada averaged 7,948 newly reported HCV cases annually, with British Columbia averaging at 2,146 cases. People who inject drugs (PWID) are considered a priority population, representing up to 80% of the HCV cases in Canada.
Source: BC Centre for Disease Control; Reportable Diseases Data Dashboard
In 2020 when COVID hit, this priority population took a big hit and was disproportionately affected. Many in-person services were shut down, including many physicians’ clinics and non-urgent Hepatitis Testing, increasing barriers for those who are on HCV treatment and Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT). A lack of access to services in combination with the halting of many testing and harm reduction programs meant new cases were underreported in 2020, and there were increased chances of new and re-infections.
While the VIDC clinic stayed open throughout the pandemic, our weekly Community Pop-Up Clinics (CPCs) were halted during March to August and we weren’t able to provide in-community, free point-of-care HIV/HCV tests at single-room occupancy (SRO) buildings, community centres and shelters.
Despite this challenge, our team persisted with patient engagement. From March 2020 to March 2021, the VIDC team managed to connect over 100 individuals to Hepatitis C treatment starts.
This is a significant number.
While British Columbia is on track to meeting the World Health Organization’s goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030, data shows that there is a distinct drop in Direct-Acting Antiviral (DAA) treatments in the province since 2018. This means there’s a big gap between diagnosing individuals and successfully linking them to care.
Patient engagement is at the heart of our work at VIDC and we do our best to link individuals to care. This may be a follow up appointment at VIDC’s clinic, an onsite follow up at SROs and shelters, or even a note to their past care providers to re-link them to care.
Over the years, we have found our Test, Engage, Treat, Engage Test (ENTEnTE) program to be the key to an increased treatment adherence and long term follow up.
How Can You Help?
There are many ways to get involved with our fight against viral hepatitis elimination.
World Hepatitis Day today is the perfect time to raise awareness on the topic! The World Hepatitis Day team has created social media graphics, stickers and videos you can share with your network.
Visit worldhepatitisday.org to download ready-to-use content and help highlight viral hepatitis elimination on social media feeds today.
Have you ever been tested for Hepatitis C?
Everyone, especially if you’re unsure if you’ve ever been exposed to it, should get tested for at least once in their lifetime.
Individuals who work in high-risk professions and/or are actively participating in high-risk activities should get tested every 3 to 6 months.
Testing is incredibly easy! The point-of-care test kits we bring to CPCs are a quick finger-prick blood test, with results available in 5 minutes.
Hepatitis C treatment is widely available with easy treatment courses in the form of pills taken for 8 to 12 weeks with a 95% chance of cure. Learn more about HCV treatment at VIDC.
General physicians are able to prescribe HCV treatment in Canada, so referrals to specialists aren’t necessary. There’s also a lot of financial assistance from the government as well as pharmaceutical companies for the cost of treatment to make them more accessible.
Part of getting treated for Hepatitis C is to monitor the health of your liver, as untreated chronic HCV can lead to advanced liver scarring and cirrhosis (liver cancer). The monitoring process is simple and non-invasive, in the forms of an ultrasound test or a FibroScan.
Talk to your care provider to get started with treatment today.
COVID has affected our lives in ways we’re only beginning to appreciate. It is now time to get back to the new normal and pay attention to things we have neglected. HCV infection is one of those things.
Do it now - Hepatitis can’t wait!