Hepatitis C (HCV) infections are prevalent in custodial settings worldwide, yet provision of antiviral therapies is uncommon. Approximately 30,000 prisoners are held in Australian prisons at any one time, with more than 30 per cent testing positive for HCV antibodies. Prisoners have been identified in the National Hepatitis C Strategy as a priority population for assessment and treatment. The purpose of this paper is to examine the rates of HCV testing and treatment, as well as barriers and opportunities for development of infrastructure for enhanced services.
Interviews were conducted with 55 stakeholders from the correctional sector in each state and territory in Australia in two stages: service directors to gather quantitative data regarding rates of testing and treatment; and other stakeholders for qualitative information regarding barriers and opportunities.
Of more than 50,000 individuals put in in custody in Australian prisons in 2013, approximately 8,000 individuals were HCV antibody positive, yet only 313 prisoners received antiviral treatment. The barriers identified to assessment and treatment at the prisoner-level included: fear of side effects and the stigma of being identified to custodial authorities as HCV infected and a likely injecting drug user. Prisoners who came forward may be considered unsuitable for treatment because of prevalent mental health problems and ongoing injecting drug use. Provision of specialist hepatitis nurses and consultants were the most frequently recommended approaches to how prison hepatitis services could be improved.
Many personal and systems-level barriers relevant to the delivery of HCV treatment services in the custodial setting were identified. Ready access to skilled nursing and medical staff as well as direct acting antiviral therapies will allow the prison-sector to make a major contribution to control of the growing burden of HCV disease.
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- 1Inflammation and Infection Research Centre (IIRC), School of Medical Sciences, University of New South Wales, Australia.
- Int J Prison Health. 2016 Mar 14;12(1):3-16. doi: 10.1108/IJPH-08-2015-0025.
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