A positive test for hepatitis C.
A positive test for hepatitis C. Credit: Dreamstime / TNS

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Ted James is a gastroenterologist and liver specialist at St. Joseph Hospital.

The median house price in Bangor was $267,500 last month, up 30.5 percent since last year. This sharp increase in housing cost has made it difficult for low-income individuals and families to find affordable housing.

As a result, many individuals are left with no choice but to live on the streets, in shelters or in other unstable housing situations. We have seen this first hand with an increase in the homeless population in Bangor.

Along with this demographic shift, comes an increased prevalence of hepatitis C cases, which have increased sixfold from 2016 to 2020, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, many homeless individuals are unable to access testing and treatment for hepatitis C due to a lack of resources and support.

This is not just a moral issue, but also a financial one. The cost of treating hepatitis C increases significantly when the disease progresses to its later stages, which can lead to liver failure, cancer and death. A study published in JAMA found a significant reduction in medical costs including hospitalizations, emergency room visits and skilled nursing facilities following hepatitis C treatment. This is particularly important in Bangor, where our emergency rooms are overflowing and we have a shortage of available skilled nursing beds.

Furthermore, untreated hepatitis C in homeless populations can also lead to increased health care costs for other illnesses. Homeless individuals with hepatitis C are more likely to require hospitalization and emergency room visits, leading to higher health care costs for both individuals and the health care system as a whole, according to a study in the Journal of Infectious Disease.

Moreover, as a society, we have a moral obligation to provide health care for all individuals, regardless of their housing status. Providing testing and treatment for hepatitis C among homeless populations is a critical step toward achieving health equity in our community.

To address this issue, the federal government has launched an initiative to eradicate hepatitis C in the United States by 2030. This initiative includes expanding access to hepatitis C testing and treatment, particularly among vulnerable populations such as the homeless. We need to call on city officials to work with the federal government in order to use this expanded access to improve the lives of the people here in our corner of the world.

It’s time for Bangor to take action and invest in hepatitis C testing and treatment for homeless populations. By doing so, we can improve the health outcomes of vulnerable individuals, reduce health care costs, contribute to the national goal of eradicating hepatitis C and fulfill our moral obligation to provide health care for all, regardless of financial means.