A potentially deadly infection often goes untreated. Here’s how this researcher is changing that
When Dr. Zoe von Aesch was a resident at St. Michael’s Hospital she was struck by something she saw in the busy family practice: there were many hepatitis C patients, some who were treated, and some who were not.
“I wondered, how can we best provide care to them? I looked for guidelines for family physicians, I couldn’t really find very many Canadian ones. So I focused on creating tools to help family doctors provide more structured care,” she said.
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes liver inflammation, sometimes leading to serious liver damage, impacting around 58 million people around the world, according World Health Organization estimates. While antiviral medicines are highly effective at curing most hepatitis C patients, access to diagnosis and treatment is low. Von Aesch’s research focuses on revealing the barriers patients face when seeking life-saving hepatitis C care, which she has found are often linked to social determinants of health, such as housing.
Her studies show that those who seek hepatitis C treatment are more likely to be older, housed, and less likely to have used injection drugs. The Family Health Team uses this important information to understand which hepatitis C patients they may be missing.
For Research Month, von Aesch takes viewers through the Sumac Creek Family Health Centre. Watch the video or read more to find out how she hopes her research on urban and community care will impact those living with hepatitis C.
What is the problem you’re trying to solve with your research?
von Aesch: The focus of my research was to characterize what our hepatitis C patients look like who are treated in our practice and untreated, and also to see what’s difficult for clinicians when providing hepatitis C treatment within family medicine.
How did you first become involved with this area of research?
von Aesch: I was a resident at St. Michael’s. I worked across from the hospital, and I noticed we had a lot of hepatitis C patients in our practice, some who would be treated, and some who had not. And I wondered, how can we best provide care to them? I looked for guidelines for family physicians. I couldn’t really find very many Canadian ones. So I focused on creating tools to help family doctors provide more structured care.
What do you hope the impact of this work will be?
von Aesch: I hope that it’ll allow us to understand who goes for treatment now for hepatitis C, and who’s a bit hesitant, and what we can do to support them in accessing hepatitis C care, ideally within family medicine or within the larger hospital.
How does your work as a family physician impact research and vice versa?
von Aesch: My patients really inspire me. I hear their stories and their challenges, and it provokes ideas for me as to what research you can do to help improve their health. I’d also like to think my research background allows me to provide a little bit better care day to day.
What do you want people to know about urban and community care research?
von Aesch: I think what’s interesting about our urban health population is that it’s really a microcosm of the world. It showcases people from around the world — great minds, varied cultural groups and religions. This allows us to do really interesting important research.
It also probably showcases or highlights some of the cracks in the Canadian system. If you think about the social determinants of health — like housing, education, food security—it highlights ways that we could probably be doing better as Canadians.
If we help work on those issues, population health of our entire country would be better.
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By: Marlene Leung and Ana Gajic