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Hep C treatment, costing $150K, sought by N.W.T. tainted blood victim

An Inuvik man says the Northwest Territories' health system is denying him a prescription treatment that can cure the Hepatitis C virus he was infected with while undergoing a routine blood transfusion at the Inuvik hospital in the 1980s.

Rudolph Cardinal, infected in 1980s by blood transfusion, says only sicker patients getting new drug

Rudolph Cardinal holds some of the prescription drugs he is required to take to treat his Hepatitis C. Cardinal says he was infected during a routine blood transfusion in Inuvik in 1983, during the 'tainted blood' scandal. (CBC)

An Inuvik man says the Northwest Territories' health system is denying him a prescription treatment that can cure the Hepatitis C virus he was infected with while undergoing a routine blood transfusion at the Inuvik hospital in the 1980s.

"I'm at a place where I don't know where to go anymore," said Rudolph Cardinal. "They're the ones that got me sick. They're the ones that should pay for my medication."
Dr. Morris Sherman says that most health systems across Canada don't fund blanket treatments for everyone infected with Hepatitis C, and that a 'common triage' is how scarred the patient's liver is. (CBC)

Hepatitis C is a chronic liver disease caused by a virus, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. It's spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person, such as through shared needles, improperly sterilized tattoo needles, or by blood transfusions or organ transplants prior to 1992.

Cardinal was infected in 1983 through a blood transfusion. The Hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1989 and tests to screen for the virus were introduced in blood banks across Canada in 1990.

A national investigation found that thousands of patients had been infected with HIV and Hepatitis C through the Canadian blood donation system in the 1980s.

It is often referred to as the "tainted blood" scandal.

'If you have a healthy liver, they're not covering'

A new drug called Harvoni, which came on the market in 2014, has been found to cure Hepatitis C in most patients. The three-month course of treatment currently costs $150,000.

About six months ago, his specialist in Edmonton wrote him a prescription for Harvoni, Cardinal said.

"I got the prescription, brought it to the Inuvik hospital," he said. "And that's where everything stopped."

According to Cardinal, hospital staff originally told him that the Northwest Territories' health-care system would pay for the treatment.

Later on, Cardinal said he was told his treatment wasn't covered, because his liver wasn't damaged to the point where he needed breakthrough medication.
'They're the ones that got me sick. They're the ones that should pay for my medication,' Cardinal says. (CBC)

"They gave me the reason that I told you. If you have a healthy liver, they're not covering," Cardinal said.

The N.W.T. department of Health and Social Services declined a request from CBC News for an interview.

Dr. Morris Sherman, a doctor who researches and treats hepatitis patients at the University Health Network in Toronto, said most health systems across Canada don't fund blanket treatments for everyone infected with Hepatitis C.

"Obviously we would like to treat everyone, but the drugs are so expensive that that's not possible," Sherman said.

"So there has to be some kind of rationing and some kind of triage. And the triage that most authorities have decided upon is the amount of scarring in the liver."

Cardinal said his liver has very little scarring. However, he argues that it's not his fault he was infected.

The 56-year-old added that in his estimation, this wouldn't be the response with other diseases.

"If you ever spot a cancer, you are going out to get treatment and find out what's wrong with you," he said.

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