Are we Doing Enough?

Hepatitis C & Aboriginal People Who Inject Drugs – 

Are We Doing Enough?

The Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users’ League (AIVL), the national organisation representing people who inject drugs, is calling on federal and state & territory governments to show urgently needed political leadership on the issue of increasing rates of hepatitis C among Aboriginal people who inject drugs.

The National Hepatitis C Strategy 2005-2008 and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sexual Health & BBV Strategy 2005-2008 identify Indigenous people who inject drugs and/or in custodial settings as key target groups within both strategies. Despite the prioritisation of these groups however, the rates of hepatitis C infection are between 2 and 11 times higher among Indigenous people who inject drugs than non-Indigenous people who inject drugs.

Mr John Van Den Dungen, AIVL’s Indigenous Program Worker stated: “Hepatitis C rates among all people with a history of injecting drug use are extremely high. The level among Indigenous people who inject drugs however, is disproportionally and unacceptably high. Indigenous people appear to be bearing the brunt of this epidemic.”

To encourage further discussion and action on this issue, AIVL is holding a national forum titled: “Why Are the Rates of Hepatitis Higher in Aboriginal Communities?” at the Marque Hotel Canberra on 22 May 2009. This event is being held in conjunction with World Hepatitis Day and National Hepatitis Awareness Week 2009 from 18-22 May. The event will be facilitated by Ms Kerry Arabena and includes a number of highly regarded speakers followed by a panel discussion on the issues presented.

World Hepatitis Day and National Awareness Week provide an excellent opportunity to highlight the issue of blood-borne viruses in Indigenous Communities. The forum will address issues such as: What is the reason for the higher rates of hepatitis C? Do we have any answers? What can we do about the increasingly disproportionate effect of hepatitis C on Indigenous people who inject drugs?

Ms. Annie Madden, AIVL’s Executive Officer commented; “Indigenous drug users live with multiple layers of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations. Poor attitudes towards Indigenous drug users results in increased vulnerabilities and levels of social exclusion including significantly higher rates of homelessness, incarceration, poverty, and chronic health problems including hepatitis C infection.”

As a matter of principle, AIVL believes all people who inject drugs including Indigenous people who inject drugs have the right to the same standard of health care and prevention programs as the wider community. The outcome of this forum will assist in addressing the key issues and pave a way for genuine solutions to this growing problem.