Screen­ing baby boomers for hep­ati­tis C will save lives

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - BY ECATERINA P. DAMIAN Ecaterina Perean Damian, MPH, MA, is pro­gram man­ager for the Cana­dian So­ci­ety for In­ter­na­tional Health.

To­day, coun­tries around the world will mark World Hep­ati­tis Day by call­ing for in­creased ac­cess to hep­ati­tis test­ing, pre­ven­tion and treat­ment.

The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion is lead­ing the charge with its Global Strat­egy on Vi­ral Hep­ati­tis, adopted by 194 gov­ern­ments. The strat­egy aims to elim­i­nate hep­ati­tis as a pub­lic health threat by 2030.

And Canada is on board sort of.

For eight years, the Cana­dian So­ci­ety for In­ter­na­tional Health (CSIH) has been co­or­di­nat­ing the World Hep­ati­tis Day cam­paign in Canada, with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of dozens of or­ga­ni­za­tions ... across the coun­try. Last year, fed­eral Health Min­is­ter Dr. Jane Philpott launched WHD Canada on Par­lia­ment Hill with an af­fir­ma­tion of Canada’s com­mit­ment to the elim­i­na­tion of hep­ati­tis.

CSIH, the Cana­dian Liver Foun­da­tion and other like­minded or­ga­ni­za­tions work year-round to raise aware­ness and pro­mote safe be­hav­iour, screen­ing and ac­cess to treat­ment. Physi­cians treat hun­dreds of Cana­di­ans who are af­fected by the disease. Canada’s prov­inces and ter­ri­to­ries are tak­ing ac­tive steps to im­prove ac­cess to the most re­cent hep­ati­tis ther­a­pies that have been demon­strated to cure hep­ati­tis C, es­pe­cially when de­tected early.

And there’s the hitch - early de­tec­tion. It’s es­ti­mated that 44 per cent of Cana­di­ans with hep­ati­tis C don’t know they have it. The need to im­prove screen­ing is ev­i­dent.

On April 24, the Cana­dian Task Force on Pre­ven­tive Health Care (CTFPHC) re­leased new screen­ing guide­lines for hep­ati­tis C that were in­tended to fill the gap. Un­for­tu­nately, the guide­lines don’t in­clude the pop­u­la­tion with the high­est rate of un­di­ag­nosed cases: baby boomers, or Cana­di­ans born be­tween 1945 and 1975.

Some boomers may have par­tic­i­pated in risky be­hav­iours in their youth, from ex­per­i­ment­ing with in­jec­tion drugs to DIY tat­toos. Others could have been con­tam­i­nated through blood trans­fu­sions and un­safe med­i­cal prac­tices prior to 1992. And thou­sands of Cana­di­ans from ev­ery walk of life have no way of trac­ing how they might have con­tracted the disease.

These peo­ple go about their busi­ness obliv­i­ous to the fact they’ve been car­ry­ing a lifethreat­en­ing disease for 10, 20 or 30 years. And by the time symp­toms de­velop, they could have se­ri­ous liver dam­age, cir­rho­sis or can­cer, and a bleak prog­no­sis.

Screen­ing would per­mit early de­tec­tion, ef­fec­tive treat­ment and help pre­vent the spread of the disease.

How can a coun­try sign on to the WHO Global Strat­egy on Vi­ral Hep­ati­tis while adopt­ing guide­lines that over­look such a large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion? How can Canada erad­i­cate hep­ati­tis if al­most half its af­fected ci­ti­zens don’t know they need to seek treat­ment?

This year on World Hep­ati­tis Day, CSIH calls on the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment to step up its ef­forts to elim­i­nate hep­ati­tis C by re­vis­it­ing these guide­lines and in­clud­ing a rec­om­men­da­tion for the screen­ing of Cana­di­ans born be­tween 1945 and 1975.

And we urge baby boomers to ask their doc­tor for this sim­ple test. It could save your life.

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