World Hepatitis Day is on the 28th July, forcing us to recognise that one in 12 people around the world are living with chronic hepatitis B or hepatitis C. The international event was set up by the World Hepatitis Alliance on behalf of patient groups in order to raise awareness of this major threat to public health.
So what are the facts?
- Five out of every six people with chronic hepatitis C are unaware of their infection. Hepatitis C Action Plan for England
- 2.8 million injecting drug users are thought to have HIV, that’s 1 in 5. UNDOC World Drug Report 2011
- 50% of injecting drug users are thought to have Hepatitis C. UNDOC World Drug Report 2011
We work with hundreds of drug treatment providers whose clients are at a very high risk of contracting blood borne viruses (BBVs). This is because they often share drug taking paraphernalia, not just needles but anything that might have blood on it, such as cocaine straws or tourniquets.
Last year Concateno polled delegates at the Drink and Drug News/The Alliance National Service User Involvement (NSUI) conference. Although 85% of respondents said their drug workers gave adequate information on the risks of BBV, the survey also revealed some gaps in their knowledge – two thirds did not know you could catch or transmit Hep-C by sharing a rolled-up note or straw for snorting cocaine.”
So work still needs to be done to increase awareness of BBVs in high risk communities. But there are some barriers, from tight service budgets to the reluctance of clients to get tested in the first place. Some services are trying innovative ways to increase uptake, including Turning Point’s Hertsreach Substance Misuse Service, whose needle exchange sharps bins now bear the message ‘Get tested…Get Vaccinated’. Dried blood spot testing has been shown to increase uptake in groups where whole blood samples are less popular. Injecting drug users often have inaccessible veins and many substance misuse services can’t afford to have a qualified phlebotomist on their staff.
We’re looking forward to seeing what initiatives local communities have come up with to promote hepatitis awareness at http://www.worldhepatitisalliance.org/whdinitiatives.aspx?whd=whd&iid=all