Montreal pilot project aims to cure homeless of hepatitis C

A first-of-its-kind pilot project is working to cure Montreal's Old Brewery Mission clients of hepatitis C.

First-of-its-kind program gives infected homeless people access to cutting edge treatments

Alain Gallant said he hopes the hepatitis C treatment he's undergoing through the Pause Santé program will help him get off the streets one day. (CBC)

A first-of-its-kind pilot project is working to cure homeless clients of Montreal's Old Brewery Mission of hepatitis C.

The program, known as Pause Santé, has taken in 27 mission residents over the past year, and 20 have been cured.

It’s estimated that 50 per cent of Montreal’s homeless population lives with the treatable yet potentially fatal disease.

Hepatitis C spreads easily and can cause cirrhosis of the liver and cancer if left untreated.

Yet its only major symptom is fatigue.

Mission resident Alain Gallant contracted hepatitis C through intravenous drug use.

It took a prison drug test to reveal that he was infected.

“I was disappointed. I had no other illnesses. I had nothing,” he told CBC News.

Gallant is one of the latest participants in the Pause Santé program, which is run jointly by medical staff from the Université de Montreal and counsellors at the mission.

Julie Bruneau of the Université de Montréal’s Addiction Treatment Service said the program works to ensure that everyone has access to the latest in hepatitis C treatment.

"We're focused on new treatments now and it’s very exciting and we can cure people,” she said.

Hope to expand program

The program can take in up to 14 patients at a time and provides them with accommodation and transportation to and from medical appointments over the course of their treatment, which can take up to 12 months.

Old Brewery Mission Director General Matthew Pearce said the program aims to not only cure its patients but to give them a new sense of what’s possible.

"People who become cured from hepatitis C also begin to manage addiction issues they have and can imagine a better life,” Pearce told CBC News.

“They can imagine getting out of the Old Brewery Mission and back into society."

Pearce said he hopes to get government funding so the service can expand.