B.C. government makes hepatitis C treatment available to all residents

The B.C. government will now allow anyone living with chronic hepatitis C to access treatment.

New drug Vosevi added to PharmaCare list to help treat 73,000 British Columbians with virus

An estimated 73,000 British Columbians live with hepatitis C. (AFP/Getty Images)

The B.C. government will now allow anyone living with chronic hepatitis C to access treatment, even in its early stages.

"What we hope, of course, is from a health cost perspective that it avoids more serious illness later on," said B.C. health minister Adrian Dix. 

"But for people, it gives them an opportunity to get well, to cure a disease that many people have suffered in silence with for a very long time."

Anyone in B.C. who is living with the virus will now have a range of treatment options, all of which will be funded under the province's PharmaCare program.

The government also announced Tuesday that Vosevi, a new drug to treat hepatitis C approved by the national Common Drug Review in January 2018, will be available for British Columbians via PharmaCare. 

In 2017, 2,657 British Columbians received treatment for chronic hepatitis C through PharmaCare, but an estimated 73,000 people in the province have the virus.

'Absolutely huge'

The expanded treatment options are welcome news for people living with the virus, said Daryl Luster of Richmond, B.C., who was cured a decade ago — before more advanced medications were available.

"It's huge, absolutely huge, if you are one of those people," said Luster, who is also president and co-chair of the Pacific Hepatitis C Network.

"Very few people when they are diagnosed with hep C would say, 'Oh no, I'm fine with it."

The move by B.C. comes a week after the Ontario government announced a similar measure, saying they were able to expand because of newer, minimally invasive drugs, with very high cure rates.

Hepatitis C specialists like Dr. Alnoor Ramji, a clinical associate professor at UBC, say the expanded coverage could also help ensure more people are tested and treated.

"The majority of patients who have hepatitis C are actually baby boomers. A large proportion of them are not yet diagnosed, and many, many of them are not linked to care," he said.

If left untreated, chronic hepatitis C can cause serious complications, such as liver failure and liver cancer.