Last Thursday (September 10) our President and Medical Director, Dr. Brian Conway, was on the CBC Radio show On The Coast as the Hepatitis C Expert.
The interview was a response to the recently published study from UBC with shocking results concerning Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES) residents.
According to the study, DTES residents are dying at a much higher rate compared to the national average, and not due to HIV/AIDS or substance overdose.
“We were somewhat surprised because most people thinking about the Downtown Eastside think about HIV/AIDS or the possibility of overdosing on opioids like heroin,” said Dr. William Honer, professor and head of UBC’s Department of Psychiatry and co-author of the study. “Our system is not doing as well in getting treatments out there for psychosis and hepatitis C in this group, and it’s interesting that those two illnesses are causing risk for early mortality.”
— UBC News
Dr. Conway came on the show to speak on these findings — findings that, as VIDC’s President and Medical Director, does not surprise him. These results, as he mentions on the interview, parallels what we see when on our regular visits to the DTES for our Community Pop-Up Clinics (CPCs). The surprise that came with the results confirm one more important reality: there still isn’t enough awareness about hepatitis C.
According to Dr. Conway, the prevalence of HCV in the DTES community is because of a number of things. However, the main factors are: prevalence of injection-drug use, lack of awareness and education about the cure available for HCV, and the social situation of the residents. Not only is a very vulnerable population not aware of the disease and its cure, most of them have difficulty even accessing basic health care. It also does not help that HCV is asymptomatic (does not show symptoms) until about 20-25 years after infection.
This is one of main driving forces behind VIDC’s CPCs and the health-care model that we have at VIDC. By heading out into the community, we promote awareness and education while making health care a lot more accessible to the community members. Also, at VIDC, we understand that often treatment for a disease that is asymptomatic is the last thing on their minds. Why would they seek treatment when they are worried about where they can spend the weekend and how they will eat for the next couple of weeks? This is why our patient care takes all these into considerations. Often our nurses, research coordinators, clinic staff, and physicians would help patients with their housing application, or contact shelters and soup kitchens for them — all these on top of getting them started on treatment, applying for treatment fundings, and providing general health care.
To find out more about this, here a couple of very useful links:
- CBC Radio On The Coast (September 10, 2015) [Interview with Dr. Conway starts on 1:40:20]
- DTES residents dying at more than eight times the national average: UBC study (UBC News article)
- Mortality from treatable illnesses in marginally housed adults: a prospective cohort study (link to the published study)