Canadian Liver Specialists
Can't Cope With Exploding
Hep-C Cases
By Dennis Bueckert
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA (CP) -- Liver specialists are calling for help as they struggle to cope with the burgeoning number of < hepatitis C cases.
There are about 25 Canadian hepatologists or liver specialists to handle an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 hepatitis C patients, Samuel Lee, president of the Canadian Association for the Study of Liver, said in an interview Thursday.
"In the past two years the waiting list for new patients to see me has gone from about eight or nine weeks to seven months and it's all due to hep C patients," said Lee, a hepatologist at the University of Calgary.
The situation is similar across the country, said Gerald Minuk, a Winnipeg hepatologist.
"There are just not enough of us to cope with the number of patients," said Minuk.
General practitioners are not able even to provide counselling for people who have tested positive for the virus let alone to keep up with the latest thinking on treatment, which is evolving rapidly, he said.
The hepatitis C virus was isolated less than 10 years ago but it has spread rapidly, mainly through tainted blood and the use of injection street drugs.
Lee has called upon the federal government to develop a national hepatitis C strategy, along the lines of the AIDS strategy Ottawa has funded for years. A major focus would be training.
"There is an immediate and urgent need for greatly increased numbers of hepatologists to treat patients with this hepatitis C problem," he wrote in a recent letter to Health Minister Allan Rock.
In the letter he urged Rock to consider funding at least 10 positions per year in hepatology across the country for at least the next 10 years.
In a reply to Lee, Rock said physician training is a provincial-territorial responsibility.
"As federal minister of health it would be inappropriate for me to provide funding to the provinces and territories earmarked for the training of particular specialists," says Rock in the letter obtained by The Canadian Press.
Rock notes that at a health ministers meeting in September he proposed a package of measures to build knowledge about hepatitis C, and to ensure patients don't have to spend their own money to get drug treatment.
Minuk said Manitoba has taken a lead in treatment of hepatitis C by establishing a special training program for liver specialists and by establishing a formal hepatitis C clinic.
Minuk and his colleagues have produced two CD-ROMs on hepatitis C, one for general practitioners and one for patients.