Drug Users Need More Support To Prevent Hepatitis C

Drug Users Need More Support To Prevent Hepatitis C

 The new national report recently released by the Australian National Council on AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases (ANCAHRD) titled “Estimates and Projections of the Hepatitis C Virus Epidemic in Australia 2002” is a timely wakeup call to governments and the community on the issue of hepatitis C in Australia.

Ms Annie Madden the Executive Officer of the Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL) which is the peak national organisation representing illicit drug users states that “this report estimates that the number of new cases of hepatitis C infection have increased 45 percent in four years. If this was any other disease it would be seen as a major public health issue but because hepatitis C mainly affects people who have or do inject drugs it is primarily viewed as a “drug user’s problem”, not a community problem.”

“Hepatitis C is a community problem however, because illicit drug users are members of the community. They are people’s partners, parents and siblings and they deserve access to quality health care, education and treatment. Whether it is hepatitis C, heart disease or diabetes, health issues that affect one part of our community inevitably have an affect on the rest of the community” Ms Madden added.

The Australian Injecting & Illicit Drug Users League is concerned that the media coverage so far on this issue has not highlighted the enormous amount of hepatitis C education and advocacy work that is already being done by drug users for drug users. “While this unacceptable increase in the number of new infections certainly highlights the urgent need for more peer education and access to clean injecting equipment, it is also important to recognise that drug users are trying to do something about hepatitis C” Ms Madden said.

The harsh reality is that the discrimination and stigma associated with injecting drug use is keeping people away from services and information in relation to hepatitis C. People are often forced to share and re-use injecting equipment because they are concerned about being targeted by the police when going to and from Needle & Syringe Programs (NSPs) or the services they need aren’t available in the first place. “If we really want to reduce the spread of hepatitis C then need to make sure that the laws and policies in relation to NSPs support free, confidential access to injecting equipment without fear of arrest” Ms Madden stated.

AIVL believes that the people in the best position to be doing hepatitis C prevention education with injecting drug users is other injecting drug users – their peers. “Peers are the only ones who are ‘on the spot’ when people are engaging in unsafe injecting practices and they are also more likely to have the trust and respect of other drug users” added Ms Madden. For this reason, AIVL believes that the answer to tackling the hepatitis C epidemic amongst injecting drug users is to provide adequate funding for peer education that is run by and for current drug users and to reform the way that illicit drug use and drug users are currently treated by society.