Dr. Jordan Feld a liver specialist

Dr. Jordan Feld is a liver specialist co-leading a groundbreaking program to increase the number
 of physicians who treat hepatitis C. (Photo: UHN Photographics)

Two clinicians from the renowned Liver Clinic at Toronto Western Hospital (TWH) will now be able to train more physicians to educate and treat patients about  hepatitis C, and provide them with best treatment options.

The program, known as Link-C, aims to improve access to hepatitis C care and treatment in remote areas of Ontario and other parts of Canada.

The program is supported through a $600,000 grant from Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd. and is designed to support and motivate additional health care providers in rural areas to develop the expertise necessary to treat the disease. These funds will be focused on training physicians to actively engage and inform patients about the risk factors and optimal treatment options. Furthermore, the program will also inform recommendations for an optimal screening program.

A large number of Canadians with hepatitis C remain undiagnosed. According to a single estimate, 21 per cent of Canadians infected with hepatitis C remain undiagnosed, however, some experts believe that this figure may be higher. In addition, many Canadians, particularly those living in remote areas, lack access to local care and treatment. While hepatitis C is an infection that can be cured, hepatitis C treatment and management is highly specialized and available from a limited group of health care providers with such expertise.

Dr. Hemant Shah, co-leader of the education program for hepatitis C 
Dr. Hemant Shah, co-leader of the education program for hepatitis C, believes that a more
comprehensive education program is needed for both patients and clinicians. (Photo: UHN Photographics) 

"We recognize that an alarming number of Canadians lack timely access to hepatitis C care, which is why we've developed the Link-C program," said Dr. Jordan Feld, Francis Family Liver Clinic, TWH. "The diagnosis can be life-changing, yet there is a gap in awareness among patients and caregivers about the disease itself, its implications and treatment options. Link-C will bring education and support to more health care professionals so that we can improve care for the men and women with hepatitis C in Canada."

Hepatitis C affects at least 240,000 Canadians with some estimates as high as 400,000. Left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver, liver failure and potentially liver cancer. The goal of Link-C is to broaden the pool of health care professionals with expertise in hepatitis C, thereby increasing the number of health care professionals who can diagnose, treat and manage the disease.

"In addition to equipping additional health care providers with the expertise to identify and treat hepatitis C, Link-C will also engage and inform patients about the risk factors, symptoms and treatment options," said Dr. Hemant Shah, Director of Education, Francis Family Liver Clinic, TWH. "Ultimately, I think a program like Link-C will help build towards a national screening program. Hepatitis C is the only chronic viral infection that is curable, so the more we can provide access to information and education for patients and caregivers, the more effective we will be at ensuring that patients can deal with and manage this condition before it yields further and much more serious complications such as liver failure and cancer."

According to data from 2009, approximately 10,000 to 12,000 new cases of hepatitis C are diagnosed in Canada each year.

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