Victoria, BC, May 25, 2015. From across the aisle and across the province, 16 British Columbia MLAs and 5 staff volunteered to “roll up their sleeves” to get tested for hepatitis C in hopes they can help broaden, normalize and de-stigmatize use of this test. After hearing that 75% of the people with hepatitis C in Canada are in the age cohort born 1945 – 1965, and 44% of the people who have Hep C don’t know it, they decided to show leadership (and courage – who likes needles?) – by getting this simple blood test publicly. The two nurses from Victoria Cool Aid Society and volunteers from HepCBC Hepatitis C Education & Prevention Society said they were surprised at the strong response, and had to turn away three MLAs (Stephanie Cadieux from the government, plus Bill Routley and John Horgan) when they ran out of needles!
MLAs who were able to get tested (see photos below) included: Government MLAs Ralph Sultan, Naomi Yamamoto, and Simon Gibson plus official opposition MLAs Scott Fraser, Carole James, George Heyman, Maureen Karagianis, Lana Popham, Jennifer Rice, Harry Bains, Katrine Conroy, Gary Holman, and Jenny Kwan. The MLAs said they are starting to see hepatitis C as a seniors issue, an aboriginal issue, an immigrant issue, and an equity issue for those living in rural/remote areas. The fact that hepatitis C is both preventable and curable makes testing and treatment even more urgent.
This chronic but deadly liver disease is often “silent” for many decades while destroying a person’s liver, resulting in liver failure, liver and other cancers, and/or need for transplant. Fortunately, hepatitis C, if caught in time, is now curable for most patients with a new treatment recently covered by BC Pharmacare. Yet, many folks – and their doctors – avoid hepatitis C testing. These BC legislators are attempting to inspire baby boomers and others to get tested for hep C by their actions today. In the USA doctors are advised to give a one-time test to all baby boomers, who could have gotten it through a long-forgotten medical procedure, tattoo, or even one teenage party in which needles or coke straws were shared. Perhaps the time has come to institute this “age-cohort” testing policy in Canada as well.
This event was preceded by BC MP Murray Rankin, Official Opposition Health Critic getting publicly tested for hepatitis C in Victoria on April 17, 2015 (see http://hepcbc.ca/2015/04/mp-health-critic-murray-rankin-gets-tested-for-hepatitis-c/), and by a discussion between Minister of Health Hon. Terry Lake and MLA Scott Fraser on May 15, 2015 (see http://hepcbc.ca/2015/05/bc-legislator-questions-health-minister-about-hepatitis-c-treatment-testing-and-education/). With a cure now available and covered by most provincial insurance agencies, to test and treat as many Canadians as possible – preventing thousands of Canadians from disability, disease and premature death – is emerging as a non-partisan issue. Politicians see the effects of hepatitis C cutting across the entire spectrum of our society, and this event demonstrates an emerging will among British Columbia’s legislators to deal with it.