Chief Executive, Hepatitis C Trust
To reach marginalised patient populations with hepatitis C, people with experience of the disease are going into communities to share their experiences. It’s a strategy that really works.
Chances are, if you’re a hepatitis C (HCV) patient, you’re not just dealing with the effects of the disease, you’re dealing with stigma and discrimination too. “Hepatitis C is associated with drug-use, although you can be infected in many other ways,” explains Rachel Halford, Chief Executive of patient-led and patient-run charity, the Hepatitis C Trust. “Unfortunately, because of this, the discrimination people receive is horrendous.” This can make it difficult to find and treat patients, putting the 2025 HCV elimination target at risk.
Educating the general public and busting the myths about hepatitis C is therefore critical. “Reaching more people with better information would reduce stigma and also increase the numbers being tested,” says Halford. “That’s key, because HCV shares symptoms with other conditions and, often, diagnosis is given only when your liver has sustained serious damage.”
I am confident that we can eliminate HCV by 2025.
Sharing real experiences in the community
To help marginalised and stigmatised patient populations get the help and support they need, there has recently been a rise in partnerships, new resources and re-engagement exercises. For example, the Hepatitis C Trust asks people with lived experience of the disease to go into vulnerable communities and share their stories with disengaged patients, including drug users and the homeless. “We’ve seen this ‘peer-to-peer’ support work really effectively,” says Halford. “It helps find the people we need to treat, which is so important.”
There is a cure for hepatitis C, and early diagnosis can improve outcomes – so no-one needs to be scared of the disease anymore, notes Halford. “I am confident that we can eliminate HCV by 2025,” she says. “It’s going to require more work, but we have the treatment, the nursing staff and the funding. And failure is not an option.”
Gilead Sciences Ltd have contributed to and funded this content. UK-HCV-2020-04-0017 Date of prep May 2020