"Positive Not Punitive"- not just a website but a way of life
On Friday 2 February 2007 the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), the national organisation representing people who inject drugs is launching a new website "Positive Not Punitive" aimed at educating the media and the general public about the urgent need to reduce discrimination in relation to hepatitis C and injecting drug use.
Annie Madden, AIVL's Executive Officer stated, "Discrimination and poor treatment because people have hepatitis C and/or have injected illicit drugs is a major problem in our community. Sadly some of the worse discrimination occurs within the health system where people with a history of injecting drug use routinely experience poor and degrading treatment".
Over quarter of a million Australians are estimated to be living with hepatitis C, which continues to be one of the most commonly reported notifiable infectious diseases in Australia. Recent estimates also suggest there is almost 10,000 new hepatitis C infections each year with over 80 percent of all hepatitis C infections attributed to unsafe injecting drug use practices. (Estimates and Projections of the Hepatitis C Virus Epidemic in Australia 2006)
Ms. Madden continued, "Hepatitis C is a major health issue for young people with the majority of new infections occurring among drug users in the 20-39 year age group. We need to be doing everything we can to remove the barriers to young people accessing hepatitis C prevention and harm reduction services. It is fear about how they will be treated when they walk through the door of a health service and fear of stigma and discrimination in the community that forces people away from information and support and increases the risk of harm."
In 2001 the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board released the "C-Change Report" on its enquiry into hepatitis C related discrimination. The enquiry found that discrimination in the health care system was prevalent, particularly in hospitals, general practice and dental surgeries. The report also identifies the role the media can play in undermining community support for important hepatitis C prevention initiatives and in fueling stereotypes that can lead to discrimination. The report states:
"We believe that increasing awareness of what hepatitis C is, how it is contracted and who contracts it, will go a long way to breaking down the stereotypes which lead to prejudice and discrimination."
(C-Change: the report of the enquiry into hepatitis C related discrimination)
AIVL's new website "Positive Not Punitive" aims to begin the education process with the media and the general community on hepatitis C and injecting drug use in a way that is engaging and informative. The site provides members of the community and media professionals with easy access to factual information on hepatitis C and injecting drug use. Personal stories from people affected by hepatitis C allows visitors to the site to gain a better understanding of the devastating impact that discrimination can have on people's lives and the lives of their families and friends.
"This site is designed to both challenge and inform. Hepatitis C and injecting drug use are issues for the whole community. We all have a responsibility to look beyond the stereotypes and to see that people affected by hepatitis C and people who inject drugs are just other members of the community who deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect. "Positive Not Punitive" is about encouraging positive and compassionate action rather than punitive and discriminatory attitudes." concluded Ms Madden.