The Needle Exchange Program, Hepatitis C, and Its Effects on the Health Care System
Hepatitis C has been called “the silent killer” because individuals often do not have symptoms until many years after they are infected and the virus has already caused liver damage and leads to more severe health problems. If you suspect you may have been infected, get tested so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.
According to Public Health Ontario, injection drug users have the highest incidence of hepatitis C. Repeated injections increase their risk of getting the hepatitis C virus. As a result, it is important for Canada to implement programs such as the needle exchange program to prevent the transmission of hepatitis C as well as detect hepatitis C earlier.
Why The Needle Exchange Program Will Help With Hepatitis C
- It will decrease the spread of blood borne infections as drug users will use clean needles and drug equipment
- Hepatitis C, hepatitis B and HIV testing can be offered to clients when they access SWPH’s NEP program. Therefore, hepatitis C can be detected early; it can be treated with antiviral medications and in most cases be cured. If high risk individuals wait until symptoms appear to get tested, their hepatitis C may have already progressed to be more severe and they may need more invasive treatment. This can result in higher health care costs and more deaths.
- SWPH will refer any client who tests positive for hepatitis C to a specialist for further care and treatment
Hepatitis C and Its Impact on The Health Care System
- The WHO states 150 Million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection. An estimated 250,000 Canadians are infected.
- The Canadian Liver Foundation states the number of Canadians with Chronic Hepatitis with Cirrhosis and advanced liver disease is on the rise and estimate it will raise 23% by 2035.
- Liver related deaths, liver cancer, and cirrhosis are the most common health complications associated with hepatitis C and it is estimated they will increase significantly by 2035
- In relation to this estimated increase of hepatitis C, The Canadian Liver Foundation estimates health care costs will increase by 60% in 2032. That will cost the health care system $258.4 Million in 2032.
- Based on 2013 health care costs, it is estimated that a male, 35-39 years of age, will cost the healthcare system $51,946 to $327,608 to treat his chronic hepatitis C infection
- To avoid this future toll, The Canadian Liver Foundation expresses the importance of implementing antiviral treatment. They state that “75% of Hepatitis C patients have early stage disease at any given time-an ideal opportunity to intervene with new antiviral therapy “
- Treating hepatitis C patients with antiviral therapy will help decrease health care costs by preventing the need for high cost invasive treatments.
- In order to treat with antiviral treatment patients must get tested and diagnosed before it is too late. NEP programs allow nurses to provide health teaching and Hep C testing.
- The Ontario Harm Reduction program has implemented programs such as the NEP program to reduce the risk of hep C transmission, increase awareness and increase testing. Hopefully this can decrease the estimated rates of Hepatitis C, decrease the amount of deaths related to hepatitis C and decrease the toll on the health care system.
- At Southwestern Public Health we can help cut costs by implementing the NEP program