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February 12, 2015
For immediate release

Prince Edward Island to introduce new lifesaving hepatitis C strategy

Health and Wellness

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The Government of Prince Edward Island is introducing a new hepatitis C management strategy that has the potential to save hundreds of lives and cure up to 70 percent of Islanders living with hepatitis C, says Health and Wellness Minister Doug Currie.

Hepatitis C is a devastating disease that often leads to liver failure, liver cancer and death. New treatments were recently approved by Health Canada that can cure HCV genotype 1 which is the genotype carried by 70 to 75 per cent of Islanders with hepatitis C, and the one most difficult to treat. The new treatments have a cure rate of 95 to 100 per cent. With few or no side effects and a much shorter treatment cycle, they provide an opportunity for patients to move from treatment to cure.

“These are lifesaving and life changing therapies that most of us will see come along only once in a lifetime, and I am very pleased that Prince Edward Island will be the first province in Canada to make them available,” Minister Currie said. “We see an opportunity to fundamentally shift the way HCV is managed in Prince Edward Island and to move from treating hepatitis C to curing it.”

Minister Currie said Prince Edward Island’s small size provides it with several advantages when it comes to implementing this type of strategy. “As a small province, we can closely monitor and assess HCV cases and mobilize and coordinate our provincial health care resources. To help this ambitious project succeed, we needed a strong partner and we found that partner in AbbVie,” he said.

Working closely with the province, AbbVie will provide a suite of services including referral, liver assessment, treatment support, education, post-treatment support and follow up.

“AbbVie recognizes Prince Edward Island’s forward-thinking and innovative hepatitis C management strategy,” said Stéphane Lassignardie, General Manager, AbbVie Canada. “We are very pleased to partner with such a progressive province. Prince Edward Island is creating a new model of care that will help in the fight against hepatitis C.”

The patient-centered model of care will include processes to initiate the screening and referral of patients from key access points throughout the province including emergency rooms, addiction services, primary care centres, methadone clinics and corrections facilities.

The model draws heavily on the work of an Atlantic Advisory Panel of experts convened recently to determine optimal methods of addressing HCV.

The Canadian Liver Foundation, an organization that has been calling for the federal and provincial governments to find workable solutions for tackling hepatitis C, applauded the government for taking this landmark step. “This is a watershed moment in history when we finally have the opportunity to cure a chronic disease,” says Dr. Morris Sherman, Canadian Liver Foundation Chairman. “We congratulate the province on stepping up as a role model in implementing a comprehensive hepatitis C strategy that will enhance not only the quality of life for patients by reducing suffering but will ultimately save lives. We hope that other provinces will soon follow their lead.”

Prince Edward Island will invest $1.6 million in the program in each of the next three years.

The strategy will allow the province to dramatically improve health outcomes and manage rising health care costs. “While the short and long term cost savings for the province will be huge, the financial benefits pale in comparison to what it will mean to the hundreds of Islanders who will soon be offered a new lease on life,” the minister said.

Approximately 400 Islanders are known to have been infected with the hepatitis C (HCV) virus and at least 60 Islanders are now in the advanced stages of the disease.

Hepatitis C causes more years of life lost than any other infectious disease in the country. The virus is spread through blood-to-blood contact, which can sometimes take place through contaminated blood transfusions, needle exchanges and un-safe sex.

Hepatitis C is considered to be one of the most serious public health issues facing Canadians. “This strategy will provide the best treatment available to many Islanders with hepatitis C and prevent further spread and serious complications among those with the disease,” said Prince Edward Island physician and former chief public health officer Dr. Lamont Sweet.

Current HCV medications have a cure rate of up to 70 per cent but they are not an option for many patients because of their serious side effects. Many patients that now rely on multiple clinic visits, and in the worst case a liver transplant at a cost of $300,000, can now look forward to more effective and accessible treatment options.

Media Contact: Jean Doherty
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