Mr. Chair, I am not as well versed on this as some members of the House. I rise primarily just to put on the record information from a person in my riding who has approached me recently related to this, so that people can understand the situation this person is in and any help that we might be able to provide.
I will read parts of this person's letter to me. It states:
I am a third-generation Yukoner. My deceased husband...was not a Yukoner but came here in the forties and was a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. ... He enjoyed his job and especially sports coverage.
He had to have a heart operation in 1995, which occurred at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver. From a blood transfusion he contacted Hepatitis C. He died on June 6, 1993, at the age of 61.
Needless to say that losing my husband of 23 years was devastating not only for me but for his four children (from a previous marriage) and my two children (also from a previous marriage). He has grandchildren who never got to know him.
Our plans to retire on our property near Champagne will never be seen. It is very hard for me to this day trying to understand how something like this could have happened when the proper testing should have been done. After Terry had his operation both his daughter and myself commented that he had a yellowish tinge, and when Terry questioned the nurses he was told it was from the operation. No tests were done for Hepatitis.
My life is very different today.
She goes on to say how she is living on pensions. And she goes on:
As you well know, the cost of living in the Yukon is very high. I live at Champagne in my son's house to be near my 92-year-old mother and stepfather. My daughter and both my grandchildren live in Whitehorse, and with the gas prices soaring it becomes quite expensive to visit them and attend school functions.
This is only one of many tragedies in the hepatitis C story. I would certainly applaud anything that can be done to help my constituent in these difficult circumstances under any provisions of government.
I would like to add some information for the record with respect to hepatitis C on some of the elements that the government has pursued.
We certainly want a strong blood supply system that can respond to all existing and future threats. That is why a plan was put in place to address the unique needs of people living with hepatitis C as well as those of the blood system as a whole.
I will talk a little about the undertaking initiative and provide some context and background for that.
The Government of Canada, along with its provincial and territorial partners, announced financial assistance for people who contacted hepatitis C between January 1, 1986, and January 1, 1990, and for infected persons with hemophilia who received blood products during that period.
This was the period during which the United States was using tests that might have screened out some units of blood contaminated with hepatitis C, had we used them here in Canada.
This $1.1 billion compensation package included $875 million in federal funding and is providing financial relief to thousands of Canadians. In fact, since for most payments under the settlement there is no income tax, the total value is approximately $1.5 billion.
There are also Canadians who contracted this disease both before and after those dates who do not fall within the terms of the negotiated settlement.
In September 1998 the Government of Canada announced a comprehensive $525 million hepatitis C strategy to meet their needs. Our goal is to help people with hepatitis C while better protecting all Canadians from threats to the safety of our blood supply.
The biggest share of that investment was earmarked for the undertaking initiative. This agreement committed the Government of Canada to transfer $300 million to the provinces and territories over 20 years to ensure that infected individuals would have reasonable access to hepatitis C health care services.
I would like to examine the impact and status of that agreement, which is now administered by the new Public Health Agency of Canada. The undertaking agreement states that the provinces and territories must earmark transfer payments for health care services related to the treatment of hepatitis C infection and related medical conditions, such as immunization, nursing care, new and emerging antiviral drug therapies, and other relevant drug therapies.
Under the terms of the agreement, provinces and territories determine the mix of services that best suits the needs of their citizens. This kind of flexibility was considered crucial to reflect the needs of different jurisdictions.
In the case of Ontario, which bears nearly half of the hepatitis C burden in Canada, doctors in that province perform about 90 liver transplants related to hepatitis C every year. Over the 20 years of the undertaking agreement these transplants will cost about $217 million, with the Government of Canada paying well over half of that, $132.6 million.
As we learned a few weeks ago, the undertaking initiative allows Ontario to use its transfer payments under the agreement as it sees fit for health care services related to hepatitis C.
Other jurisdictions may have different priorities. Some may use the funding to provide specialized hepatitis nursing support, extensive state-of-the-art laboratory testing, or to buy medication.
While provinces and territories have the flexibility to implement the agreement, they are still accountable to their respective populations on the use of their funds, and the Government of Canada has the right to reduce, adjust, or terminate funding if evidence shows that a jurisdiction has not tried to meet the shared objective of the agreement. To that end, the Government of Canada plans to evaluate the activities of each jurisdiction in this area every five years, as the provinces and territories report to their citizens.
The Government of Canada takes its responsibility to evaluate the implementation of the agreement very seriously. We are soliciting feedback from affected individuals through Health Canada's website, a function that the new Public Health Agency of Canada will take over.
We also assess publicly available information on the access and types of services, including announcements from the provinces and territories, drug plans, eligibility requirements for existing programs, information and feedback from community groups, and complaints sent to the minister or reported through the news media.
Members may recall citizen complaints and media reports that suggested the provinces and the territories were not using the funds in accordance with the intended agreement. In response, the Government of Canada held informal discussions with all jurisdictions last February about the use of these funds. From these discussions, it appears that the provinces and territories are providing hepatitis C health care services in accordance with the terms of the agreement.
That said, we will continue to monitor implementation. Canadians living with hepatitis C, health professionals, and provincial and territorial governments will be able to help evaluate the types of services provided by all jurisdictions.
Since the agreements were signed at different times, the evaluations are staggered over the next three years. It is interesting and important to note that Ontario is not due for its evaluation until 2007, but released an interim report this year, three years ahead of schedule.
Many Canadians currently infected with hepatitis C contracted the virus between 1986 and 1990, but thousands came into contact with it before and after these dates. As a society, we want to ease the burden of affected individuals who were not part of the original settlement. This is the intent of the undertaking agreement, which provides funds to provinces and territories for health care services related to hepatitis C.
Over the next 20 years, federal transfers will help provide Canadians who have hepatitis C with access to needed hepatitis C health care services. It is a flexible, sensible, and compassionate approach to meet the needs of affected people.
In conclusion, as the previous speaker said, I hope that in the days to come we will look on this situation and on people such as the constituent I talked about at the beginning of my speech with compassion and come up with the best assistance we can to improve their lives after this devastating experience they have had and that this disease has wrought on them and their families. Anything we can do, I will certainly support.