Hepatitis C and Stigma

Hepatitis C is a widely stigmatised illness, people living with hepatitis C are highly likely to experience stigma in many areas in their lives but can often experience this within healthcare settings.

Living with an illness that carries a social stigma can often lead to feelings of isolation and depression. The fact that Hepatitis C has stigma attached to it can be a barrier to people engaging in the testing and treatment they need.

“As a person with history of both living with substance use issues and hepatitis C my experiences with stigma have been extensive, from feelings of being judged to outright discrimination. We need to remember stigma leads to disengagement and isolation. Isolation can kill”

What is Stigma?

Stigma is where a person is negatively judged and devalued because of a particular characteristic. Judgments are interpersonal but can also involve self-judgments or media portrayals - all of which may create discriminatory behaviour. The discriminatory behaviour a person experiences can then negatively impact on the care they receive.

Why is Hepatitis C Stigmatised?

Hepatitis C is stigmatised because it is a transmittable illness and is associated with illicit intravenous drug use. Fears about transmission, fuelled by misinformation about hepatitis C, combined with moral judgments about drug use can lead to judgments that people living with Hepatitis C are “less worthy” of help.

Discrimination occurs when someone is treated differently because of a condition they have, for example, inappropriate precautions taken against an infection in healthcare settings, or, when people are treated differently by others due to irrational fears around infection.

“In 1992 I made a visit to my family dentist, as I thought it was the right thing to do, I disclosed my Hep C status to my dentist. On completion of the work, I was informed by the dentist I would no longer be treated at his practice because he was not comfortable treating someone with the Hep C virus.”

How Do We Reduce the Impact of Stigma?

• By keeping hepatitis C at the core of what we do as drug and alcohol treatment providers.

• Through informing people that they are not required to disclose their hepatitis C status.

• At the point of receiving a positive test, ensure the individual is given disclosure support and advice.

• Organisation and staff should continue to raise awareness of the hepatitis C virus, how it is transmitted, and how to reduce risks of infection and re-infection.

• By making testing and treatment easy to access in a non-judgmental setting.

• Through including people with lived experience (such as Hepatitis C Peers) in services so they can support people throughout their journey.

• By informing the individual of hepatitis C support groups (if they are available).

• By raising awareness of hepatitis C in primary care and other healthcare settings through the delivery of training and providing resources such as information leaflets.

• Through actively challenging stigmatising language and looking for opportunities to give people, and professionals, the correct information about hepatitis C.

  • Primary Care
  • Primary Care > Public health
  • Community Services
  • Community Services > Public health
  • Hep C U later
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