The eradication of hepatitis C may be on the horizon. New, expensive drugs approved by the Ontario government mean new hope for those suffering from liver-destroying hepatitis C, a potentially fatal virus that many people don’t even know they have.
The Ontario government has added six new hepatitis drugs to its Ontario Public Drug Programs that will help cure the 40 per cent of hepatitis sufferers who formerly were unable to access treatment.
“It’s a very exciting announcement,” said Oxford County public health nurse Lisa Gillespie, who provides tests, education and case management for local residents who have hepatitis C. “It’s very new and increases access of so many more people to life-saving treatments with high success rates and low side effects. It’s amazing.”
In Ontario it is estimated that more than 102,000 people are living with chronic hepatitis C.
Dr. Paul Marotta is a liver specialist in London who wants to get the new information about life-saving drugs out to as many people and their doctors as possible.
He said the disease should be eradicated in Canada in the next 10 to 15 years.
“The drugs have a 98 per cent cure rate,” he said. “That’s really high.”
While there have been drugs available for those with hepatitis C over the last two years, a 40 per cent group with subtypes of the disease did not have any available treatment.
“Now everyone who walks in the door with hepatitis C has a paid-for treatment,” he said.
The new drugs fill the gap and include one drug Epclusa that can be used for all genotypes.
“It covers all six types of hepititis C,” Marotta said. “This one takes the thinking out of it.”
Marotta said he hopes that the high rates of success will encourage as many people as possible to “get tested, treated and cured,” especially those who have taken drugs intravenously (even if it was decades ago), are baby boomers, have been incarcerated or are immigrants.
“For individual patients, this disease has had a stigma attached to it,” he said. “There are people walking around with it who don’t know they have it.”
Now he hopes the high rates of recovery will encourage people to get tested for the symptomless disease.
“It actually reverses liver fibrosis or scar tissue damage,” he said. “For the public, we can treat everyone with hepatitis C, only one time, but that is all that is needed.”
While treatment is expensive – Epclusa costs around $45,000 – the drugs will reduce “the public health burden” because they eliminate years of medical costs including transplants, surgeries, doctor’s visits and numerous tests.
Canada had committed to rid Canada of hepatitis by 2030.