Today, on World Hepatitis Day, people in Canada and across the globe are raising awareness about viral hepatitis and embracing this year’s theme, “Hepatitis Can’t Wait.”
Viral hepatitis remains a key public health concern. Every hour, it is estimated that at least one person in Canada is diagnosed with hepatitis C. While rates of hepatitis B and C decreased slightly between 2018 and 2019, we know that the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the social and health inequalities that drive vulnerabilities to viral hepatitis and has affected many of our efforts to address hepatitis and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI). Recent survey data indicates that during the pandemic one in five (21%) providers of support and treatment services for people living with HIV and/or hepatitis C experienced both a decreased demand for, and decreased ability to deliver their services.
As outlined in the Pan-Canadian STBBI Framework for Action and the Government of Canada’s Five-Year Action Plan on STBBI, we are working with and supporting community-based organizations, Indigenous partners, provinces and territories, researchers, and the health sector to reach our global goal of eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health concern by 2030. The Government of Canada is investing $26.4 million under the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund and $7 million under the Harm Reduction Fund to support community-based interventions to address hepatitis and other STBBI in Canada.
Despite the many challenges presented by the pandemic, we have also seen innovative and timely programs that are helping to prevent new hepatitis infections in Canada. From converting office spaces into testing clinics, to bringing culturally appropriate ways of testing to on-reserve First Nations and Inuit communities, community-led initiatives are ensuring access to testing, treatment and care, and challenging stigma toward populations disproportionately affected by viral hepatitis and other STBBI. It is these actions, driven by the dedication of community leaders, service providers and researchers that are helping to reach the undiagnosed, and ensure that no one is left behind during these unprecedented times, because Hepatitis Can’t Wait.
Hepatitis B and C are both preventable. Hepatitis C is curable, and hepatitis B can be managed with lifelong treatment. Together, we can join our voices to raise awareness about this disease and challenge stigma and discrimination to build a more inclusive country and reduce the health impact of viral hepatitis here in Canada.
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P.