People in B.C. will be better protected against the hepatitis C virus (HCV) as the Province takes further action to accelerate the elimination of the disease and provide better supports for people living with HCV.
To better help government measure the reduction of the viral infection, the Province is bringing together the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) and the BC Hepatitis Network (BCHN) to work on a made-in B.C. HCV-treatment as a prevention strategy and a hepatitis-elimination roadmap.
HCV is a highly transmittable infection that can lead to serious health complications. 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.
“Hepatitis C is a curable disease with highly effective drug treatments available to people in British Columbia for free through BC Pharmacare,” said Adrian Dix, Minister of Health. “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, we can help patients and at-risk individuals gain early access to the treatment, education and prevention they need to keep them and their communities safe.”
The BC-CfE is an internationally recognized leader in the fight against HIV/AIDS. It pioneered the Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategy for HIV in 2006 and was able to demonstrate that early access to HIV testing and antiretroviral 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 peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s.
A key part of the HIV-TasP strategy is to ensure all reasonable steps are taken to ensure no one in need is left behind. The fully implemented TasP strategy is able to prevent avoidable disease, premature death and transmission, and save a significant amount of health-care costs.
As such, the B.C. government supports the collaboration of BCCDC and BC-CfE to accelerate the rollout of the HCV-TasP so the spread of the viral infection in the province can be more effectively monitored. By sharing key relevant data, BCCDC and BC-CfE can connect more people with HCV to lifesaving testing, treatment, care and support services in a timely manner.
“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 one-time funding of $105,000 to BCHN to co-lead with BCCDC in the development of a viral hepatitis elimination roadmap, with the support of the BC-CfE. The roadmap will define short-term targets for screening, treatment, engagement in care, and community-based prevention and education, which will be fully aligned with B.C.’s goal of eliminating HCV 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.”
On the heels of World Hepatitis Day, the Province remains committed to make the goal of hepatitis elimination a reality in British Columbia. Today’s 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 provided invested $4 million to support the BC-CfE for research and strategies to expand access to life-saving hepatitis C treatment.
Deb Schmitz, executive director, BC Hepatitis Network –
“A key role for BC Hepatitis Network, as a provincial community-based organization, is to ensure robust community engagement in important processes. This one-time funding from the Province enables BC Hepatitis Network to fulfil this role and carry out a robust and far-reaching engagement of diversely experienced individuals, organizations and communities, ensuring representation of the unique needs and strengths of all B.C. regions in this significant planning process.”
Kate Salters, research scientist, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS –
“Our success in eliminating hepatitis in B.C. hinges on reducing barriers to testing, addressing the stigma facing people diagnosed with hepatitis and making treatment more widely accessible. Through our data-sharing agreement and partnership with BCCDC, we will be able to learn how to more effectively reach those most at risk of hepatitis with the treatment and care they need.”
Naveed Janjua, executive director, data and analytic services for the BC Centre for Disease Control and co-director of Canadian Network on Hepatitis C –
“The development of a hepatitis elimination road map driven by community, public health and clinical partners, and informed by data on the patient care journey, will transform hepatitis elimination efforts in B.C.”
To learn more about hepatitis, visit: www.bccdc.ca/health-info/diseases-conditions/hepatitis
To learn more about the BC Hepatitis Network, visit: https://bchep.org/
To learn more about the BC-CfE, visit: https://www.bccfe.ca/
To learn more about treatment for hepatitis C available through BC PharmaCare, visit:
To learn more about Action Hepatitis Canada’s report, visit:
A backgrounder follows.