The World Health Organisation’s goal of eliminating hepatitis C as a major public health threat by 2030 may seem like an impossible task but a strong partnership between The Hepatitis C Trust and Addaction is forging a positive path in the UK. Stuart Smith from the Hepatitis C Trust talks more about this here.
It is often said that the road to recovery starts with a single step. At The Hepatitis C Trust we believe that step is best taken with someone who knows what you’re going through. Since hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus, people who inject drugs are at high risk of contracting it. Around half of intravenous drug users are thought to already carry hepatitis C. If we’re going to reach people whose lives are affected by drugs then it’s essential to understand that this illness is just one of the challenges they face in recovery. We must partner with the services they already turn to for support.
Taking a new approach to the challenges we face
Our work with Addaction, supported by AbbVie, is about providing new interventions that can help people take that first step on the road to recovery.
Often the biggest challenge we face is that more than 50% of people who have hepatitis C are completely unaware of their condition, so we can’t rely on them going to their GP or sexual health clinic to get themselves tested. Instead, we have to take a different approach and ‘test & treat’ where it matters most.
This is where peer-led education with drug and alcohol charity, Addaction, has made a big difference. Peer educators have lived hepatitis C experience and can relate to what drug service users may be going through. Their advice and hands-on support can be the difference between someone going it alone and not sticking to a recovery plan, and someone getting the support they need with access to proper treatment.
Often it comes down to situations where getting clear of hepatitis C is just one step towards building self-esteem and getting back control over their lives. It is much easier to take advice from someone who has travelled that road and not only knows how hard it is, but can see past the barriers to getting support.
Already in South West England we have partnered with local health services to improve care pathways that ensure people with a history of drug misuse are tested and treated for hepatitis C in community settings that are much easier for them to access. This has increased the number of people being tested by 141 percent.
Pilot steps to success
As we look to roll out across the rest of the UK we will continue to adopt three key interventions, with support from Addaction and AbbVie, that aim to eliminate hepatitis C:
- Peer-to-peer education: training former service users as peer educators, to deliver talks to high-risk groups that reduce the stigma associated with hepatitis C and present facts around risky behaviours, testing and treatment
- Buddying scheme: training volunteers to provide one-to-one support to people going through testing and treatment
- Workforce development programme: providing a series of one-day training courses to improve drug and alcohol workers’ understanding of hepatitis C
We hope that as we take greater steps towards eliminating hepatitis C in the UK, with support from our partners, these critical interventions can be implemented by local health services to provide people at risk with the support they need.
To find out more, download our evaluation of the South West Hepatitis C Partnership Pilot.
If you would like further information on the pilot or would like to discuss how The Hepatitis C Trust might support the work of your service, contact Stuart Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call him on 020 7089 6223.