‘Clients fall off:’ Calgary program helps recently released prisoners with hep C

CALGARY — Imagine adjusting to life after serving prison time, then add mental- health struggles, addiction or homelessness.

Now, throw in hepatitis C, a blood-borne virus that can cause serious liver problems and is several times more prevalent in federal prisons than the general population.

A specialist in addictions and internal medicine who focuses on vulnerable populations has launched a pilot program in Calgary to ensure recently released inmates with a history of injection drug use are screened and treated for the virus.

“It takes a lot of willpower and effort on their end to come out of this. And if we don’t provide them with enough support, they’re not going to be able to,” says Monty Ghosh, a University of Alberta professor who splits his time between Edmonton and Calgary.

The program connects newly released prisoners with so-called peer navigators who have lived through similar experiences. The navigators accompany the former inmates to medical, legal and social services appointments — interactions that many avoid for fear of judgment or because more pressing issues are at hand.

“Clients often tell me that they’re confused about resources in the community. They don’t know where to go or how to get there sometimes. They have very little money to take a bus to get to where they need to be,” says Ghosh.

“Sometimes they have to decide between food and lining up to get into the shelter versus actually making their medical appointment.”

In a best-case scenario, Gosh says, it can take five months to clear the body of the hepatitis C virus. Usually, it’s more like nine or 10 months. There are numerous blood tests and followups a patient must go through over that time.

“We find that every time we add another step, clients fall off. But if you add a peer navigator, they make it to each and every one of those steps at a high, high rate.”

The program, which began in April, aims to reach 120 clients in its first year and have 80 per cent of them follow through with their treatment to the end. Ghosh says about 40 per cent of incarcerated people usually complete the treatment.

The initiative is funded with $46,000 through what pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences Canada calls a ”micro-elimination” grant. The grants are meant to help organizations combat hepatitis C in the most affected groups.

“We recognize that it will take more than just science to eliminate the burden of (hepatitis C) on patients, our health system and Canadian society as a whole,” says Gilead general manager Kennet Brysting.

The Correctional Service of Canada says hepatitis C rates in federal prisons dropped to just under eight per cent in 2017 from 32 per cent in 2007. In the general population, fewer than one per cent of people have hepatitis C.

Spokeswoman Stephanie Stevenson says 80 per cent of federal inmates with the virus are diagnosed before incarceration or at intake. The rates are higher than the general population because there is often a history of high-risk behaviour.

Just Posted

Study says rents in most cities are unaffordable for lower-income earners

OTTAWA — A minimum-wage worker could afford to rent in just a… Continue reading

Re-balancing Red Deer’s residential growth begins with Hazlett Lake plans

Northwest neighbourhoods to be developed over next decade or two

Summer travel deals require flexibility if you want to find a deal

OTTAWA — As social media feeds fill up with pictures of friends… Continue reading

Mountain pine beetle makes its way into Ponoka County

Assar Grinde has a special attachment to the pine trees that line… Continue reading

Opinion: Supervised consumption sites can’t be abandoned in Alberta

By Heather Sweet When Jason Luan, the provincial government’s associate minister of… Continue reading

FIFA claims progress in letting women attend games in Iran

ZURICH — FIFA says Iran’s soccer federation supports letting women attend 2022… Continue reading

Diving gold and perfect marks for Chen Yuxi at age 13

GWANGJU, Korea, Republic Of — Thirteen-year-old Chinese diver Chen Yuxi won the… Continue reading

Louvre in Paris removes Sackler name after opioid protests

PARIS — France’s Louvre Museum in Paris has become the first major… Continue reading

Man shouting ‘You die’ kills nearly 30 at Japan anime studio

TOKYO — A man screaming “You die!” burst into an animation production… Continue reading

Devers hits solo shot, drives in 4; Red Sox beat Jays 5-4

Red Sox 5 Blue Jays 4 BOSTON — Rafael Devers hit a… Continue reading

Argonauts still looking for first win as they face Stampeders on road

CALGARY — Dave Dickenson warned that the Calgary Stampeders can’t take a… Continue reading

Most Read