Lack of public awareness and negative stigma are key factors to be addressed in the new campaign, ‘We need to talk about Hep C’, launched by Minister for Health and Ambulance Services, Cameron Dick last Friday.
The campaign’s focus will be to spread awareness of the disease to the public and to battle the stigma attached to the blood-borne disease.
“The targeted campaign will include messages in medical centres and social media advertising and will challenge the community to question whether they may have been exposed to Hepatitis C, possibly without knowing it,” Mr Dick said.
“It will also have a strong focus on addressing the stigma associated with Hepatitis C because a lot of people think that it’s only a disease that affects those who have injected drugs.”
The stigma surrounding Hepatitis C comes from a view amongst epidemiologists that roughly 80% of transmissions are caused by the sharing of unsterilised drug injecting equipment, according to Hepatitis Queensland CEO, Clint Ferndale.
Mr Ferndale argues that the transmission of blood borne diseases such as Hepatitis C are, in some cases, not restricted to the sharing of unsterilised syringes.
Today’s use of disposable syringes allow health professionals to exercise better hygiene, however past use of potentially unsterilised syringes could be a contributor to Hepatitis transmission prior to the 1990s.
The stigma surrounding the virus is not something many people think about until it begins to affect them, according to Jane Doe* who was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in the late 1990s and has successfully undergone treatment.
“I was really shocked to find out that I had it. At the time I was told it was like having AIDS, that I had a death
sentence,” Ms Doe said.
In this case, the disease was contracted without any exposure to injectable drugs, yet she received the same negative stigma even from health professionals.
“Once I told them I has Hep C, they got distant and judgy…they weren’t as friendly…they automatically assumed I was an IV drug user and I felt compelled to tell them I never used IV drugs in my life…I received a blood transfusion a few years before they started screening blood in 1986,” Ms Doe said.
The presence of negative stigma in the everyday life of sufferers are reported on a weekly basis to Hepatitis Queensland through their telephone information and support centre.
“People are continuously calling here and reporting the stigma as a part of their life living with Hepatitis C,” Mr Ferndale said.
“This arises probably from ignorance on the part of the public and that’s part of why the minister is announcing an awareness campaign.”
With treatment now more effective and affordable than ever before, Mr Ferndale urges Australians to look past the negative stigma and continue to raise awareness of the disease.
Those who think they might have come in contact with the virus to talk to their GP about getting tested.
For more information on Hepatitis C and the ‘We need to talk about Hep C’ campaign, visit the Queensland Health website.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.