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Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology
Volume 22, Issue 4, Pages 359-364
Original Article

Publicly Funded, Pegylated Interferon-Alpha Treatment in British Columbia: Disparities in Treatment Patterns for People with Hepatitis C

Priscilla C Hsu,1,2 Jane A Buxton,1,2 Andrew W Tu,1 Warren D Hill,1 Amanda Yu,1 and Mel Krajden1

1British Columbia Centre for Disease Control, Canada
2Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Received 15 November 2007; Accepted 15 January 2008

Copyright © 2008 Hindawi Publishing Corporation. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


BACKGROUND: An estimated 60,000 British Columbians are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV); 10% to 20% will develop cirrhosis after 20 years and 5% to 10% of these will develop hepatocellular carcinoma. Although treatment may prevent cirrhosis and liver cancer, and improve quality of life, availability is limited.

METHODS: Individuals with HCV genotypes 1, 4, 5 and 6 who underwent baseline HCV-RNA tests between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2005, and were eligible for publicly funded treatment through PharmaCare were linked to British Columbia’s reportable disease database. Patterns in treatment were examined, including age at treatment, sex, location, time to treatment from HCV diagnosis and seasonality of treatment.

RESULTS: When corrected for HCV prevalence, men were more likely to receive treatment than women (RR 1.16, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.31). Patients aged 35 to 54 years and 55 years or older were 3.45 times (95% CI 2.80 to 4.26 times) and 4.49 times (95% CI 3.55 to 5.69 times), respectively, more likely to initiate treatment than 15- to 34-year-olds. Differences were noted between health authorities. Patients in rural health service delivery areas (HSDAs) were 1.25 times (95% CI 1.10 to 1.42 times) more likely to receive treatment than those in urban HSDAs. Patients had an average lapse of four years between HCV diagnosis and receiving treatment. The highest proportion of patients initiated therapy between January and March (36.5%), with the lowest between October and December (less than 14%).

CONCLUSIONS: This data linkage enabled us to identify populations less likely to receive publicly funded treatment. Rural HSDAs have higher rates of therapy initiation; this pattern merits further research but may be a result of integrated prevention and care projects in rural areas. Policy changes to the current PharmaCare funding co-payment schedules could reduce seasonal variability of treatment initiations throughout the year.