In May 2010, in advance of World Hepatitis Day, we wrote to our Canadian parliamentarians urging them to endorse the idea of adopting by 2012 a fully-funded, coordinated national strategy for both hepatitis b and c. Many Health Ministers wrote back to us outlining some of the measures they have in place in their respective jurisdictions while acknowledging the need for better collaboration and cooperation between the federal, provincial and territorial governments in order to tackle the epidemic effectively and more efficiently.
In July 2011, we wrote again. This time, we presented them with the 2011 Hepatitis Strategy Report Card along with an executive summary. The purpose of the report card (which we update on an on-going basis) was to highlight the successes and record the gaps in provincial, territorial and federal strategies towards a coordinated national approach to address hepatitis B and C. The data gathered reinforced our belief that a fully-funded, coordinated national strategy was more urgent than ever.
Over the last year, members of Action Hepatitis Canada have continued to work with the federal, provincial and territorial governments to reduce new infections, deaths and suffering caused by the hepatitis B and C viruses. While we recognize and applaud the progress that has been made at various levels in many parts of the country, monitoring of government responses to our initial national Six Asks indicates that there remains much to be achieved as we approach the original 2012 deadline.
In looking at the present national situation, three priority areas have been identified for which we ask that concrete measures be implemented before the end of 2012. These priority areas are:
1) Increasing awareness and preventing hepatitis B and hepatitis C infections among at-risk populations.
2) Improving access to health care and drug coverage.
3) Supporting communities and groups through stable funding for prevention, education, care and support.
While new, very effective drugs have been developed such as boceprevir and telaprevir, they are not yet available to all Canadians who desperately need them. In the United States, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urges people born between 1945 and 1965 to be tested, noting that roughly 75% of people with the disease are baby boomers. Canada has no plans to follow the lead of the U.S. and urge all baby boomers to be tested. The Public Health Agency of Canada is currently reviewing its options, and a report is to be completed by March 2013 that “will help shape our future hep C screening guidelines.” Canada should not drag its feet. Our baby boomers are no less at risk.
Action Hepatitis Canada produced a Briefing Note: Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C which provides a snapshot of the burden of hepatitis B and hepatitis C and the socio-economic costs in Canada. Effective medicines and control strategies are available to dramatically reduce suffering and deaths caused by these diseases and yet federal, provincial and territorial governments have not put forth concerted efforts to fight hepatitis B and C by providing adequate funding and national policy to ensure success.
There are many factors that contribute to the burdens of hepatitis B and C, and those living with and affected by hepatitis B and C not only suffer from the disease but also stigmatization, shame and anguish. The magnitude of impact on human lives and to society can be minimized and / or avoided at lower costs with the correct management strategies initiated today. Healthy outcomes for individuals can be achieved as well as solutions to the key determinants through enhanced cross-sectorial collaborations, increased funding and prioritized spending.
In a July 2012 letter, we are asking our elected government officials to provide leadership in addressing the issues and gaps identified in Action Hepatitis Canada’s Briefing Note and strengthen the delivery of hepatitis C and hepatitis B healthcare to reach the entire population, particularly the most vulnerable and difficult-to-reach. Through collaborations, implementation of solutions in a solid national strategy we have the ability to save lives, improve the quality of lives and limit the impact of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in Canada. Action Hepatitis Canada awaits an update on the status of our government’s strategies to respond to the three priority areas listed above and looks forward to working with F/P/T governments towards this end.
We hope that our elected officials will use the July 28 2012 World Hepatitis Day to make meaningful announcements to this end and that they will add this subject to the agenda of the next Conference of Ministers of Health which we understand should be taking place in the Fall of 2012.