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Hep C Screening Urged For Boomers, Drug Users, And Immigrants

A Southwestern Ontario hepatologist believes Hepatitis C will be all but eradicated in Canada by 2030.

Dr Paul Marotta, the director of liver transplantation at London Health Sciences Centre, says by eliminating barriers to access treatment, Ontario stands to save billions of dollars in its healthcare system.

“Because it’s a common disease, we have a fair number that over the years get advanced liver disease need a liver transplant, developing liver cancer, or cirrhosis. These are very expensive outcomes to the healthcare system,” he says. “By not having those outcomes happen, we save a lot of money.”

Marotta, who treats patients across Southwestern Ontario, says Hepatitis C can be cured within three months, but the drug is very expensive, so up until now it was restricted to only the sickest of patients. However, Ontario has just announced it will subsidize the cost for all patients regardless of severity.

“It’s all covered,” he says. “From the public plan, it’s covered 100%. There’s a slight little co-pay, but really that’s a trivial amount and most of the time we find mechanisms to have that covered as well.”

About 1% of the population or about 110,000 people in Ontario has Hepatitis C, but Marotta says many of those infected do not even know it. He says patients can be asymptomatic for decades until they begin to suffer cirrhosis of the liver. He says screening and early intervention are crucial to eliminating the disease faster.

There are three groups he believes should request screening: baby boomers, those who live with substance addictions, and immigrants.

“We see large pockets immigrating from Pakistan, India, the Middle East, and Egypt. These places have a very, very high rate of Hepatitis C,” says Marotta.

So far, Ontario and Quebec are the only Canadian provinces to fully subsidize treatment.