Here are some of the HIV and hepatitis C stories that made headlines in 2017. This content was originally published by CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information. They want to hear from you: what do you think was the most important story in 2017? Vote for your choice at the bottom of the article on their website.
Two provinces move towards universal hepatitis C treatment
Negotiations with Canada’s provincial and territorial governments this year brought down the price of new and effective hepatitis C drugs, making it possible to end the practice of “rationing” treatment to those with severe liver damage. Ontario and British Columbia have now announced plans to lift restrictions on treatment accessin 2018.
Canada’s public health leaders support ‘Undetectable = Untransmittable’
CATIE joined dozens of Canadian organizations signing on to the U=U consensus statement earlier this year, acknowledging the scientific evidence that a person does not transmit HIV to their sexual partners if they maintain an undetectable viral load with treatment (“undetectable equals untransmittable”). At the CATIE Forum in November 2017, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam agreed, saying that there is “effectively no chance of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner if you have achieved sustained viral suppression”. This was followed by a World AIDS Day joint statement of support from Dr. Tam and the chief medical officers of health of all provinces and territories across Canada.
First drug to cure all strains of hepatitis C added to public drug plans in Canada
Pan-genotypic hepatitis C treatments were added to federal and provincial drug plans earlier this year, offering the first public coverage in Canada of treatments that can cure all six strains of the virus. This makes it easier to treat all viral genotypes, including the difficult-to-treat strains of hepatitis C more common among immigrants and newcomers.
Canada approves generic PrEP, making the HIV prevention drug more accessible
Earlier this year, Health Canada approved the use and sale of generic formulations of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a highly effective HIV prevention pill. With the generic version offering a dramatically reduced price, Ontario became the second province after Quebec to add a formulation of PrEP to its public drug plan, expanding access to people at risk of infection.
Rapid test for hepatitis C approved in Canada
In January 2017, Health Canada approved the first rapid point-of-care test to screen people for hepatitis C. The test allows for screening to take place in locations and situations where a rapid result is needed, and is an additional tool to help diagnose the 44% of people living with hepatitis C who don’t know they have been infected.
First guidelines for Canadian healthcare providers prescribing medication for HIV prevention
An expert panel published the first Canadian guidelines for clinicians to prescribe antiretrovirals to prevent HIV before exposure (PrEP) and after exposure (post-exposure prophylaxis, or PEP). The guidelines aim to increase access to these highly effective HIV prevention methods by proposing criteria to identify individuals who would benefit, offering practical advice for patient care and monitoring, and outlining dosing options and drug recommendations – including the option of “on-demand” PrEP for men who have sex with men.
Harm reduction workers take the lead in Canada’s overdose crisis
As the overdose crisis gripped the country this year, harm reduction workers demonstrated leadership in the response by taking concrete actions in their communities to prevent the deaths of people who use drugs. From organizing a national day of action to setting up unsanctioned overdose prevention sites, harm reduction workers have led the way while governments have been slow to act.
Canada not among the 82 countries with viral hepatitis elimination plans
At the World Hepatitis Summit in Brazil this year, we learned that 82 countries have viral hepatitis elimination plans in place, and one-third of these are financed. Nine countries are on track to reach the elimination targets that were set one year ago at the World Health Assembly. Canada doesn’t have a plan yet, despite having signed on to the Global Health Sector Strategy on Viral Hepatitis.
B.C. publishes first Canadian estimates of hepatitis C diagnosis, treatment and cure rates
A key element of assessing Canada’s hepatitis C response is measuring how well we are doing at all stages, from diagnosis to treatment and cure. These stages are often referred to as the “cascade of care”, but Canadian estimates of these measurements do not yet exist. In 2017, British Columbia researchers published provincial estimates of the cascade of care, offering the first insights into how well we are doing at diagnosing, treating and curing hepatitis C in Canada.
Canada trailing global progress towards HIV testing and treatment targets
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released estimates this year of each country’s progress towards global targets to end AIDS by 2030. The estimates show that Canada is doing well at achieving viral suppression among people who are already on treatment, but falling behind similar countries with similar epidemics in testing and linkage to treatment. Only 80% of people with HIV are diagnosed, and only 76% of those diagnosed are accessing treatment. These rates fall behind countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom that are close to (or have already achieved) the first two of the 90-90-90 targets.