Why we must ensure #StigmaStops
1 March 2018
Viral hepatitis kills up to 6 Victorians a week, a greater number of deaths than the state’s road toll
Why is this number so high? The main reason is because many people living with the virus choose not to talk about it. They don’t get treated and eventually, they can die. The silence of stigma kills - and health professionals, consciously or not, can be a large part of the problem.
Today is Zero Discrimination Day, and Hepatitis Victoria, the peak not-for-profit community organisation in the state advocating for those with viral hepatitis, launches ‘Stigma Stories’ a series that complements and supports the World Hepatitis Alliance’s global #StigmaStops campaign.
In 2016, Allan went to get a tooth extracted at a dentist in Melbourne. After disclosing his positive hepatitis C status, his dentist began asking personal and intrusive questions and declined to perform a straightforward procedure. While Allan eventually had the tooth removed by another dentist and has since been cured of his hepatitis C, the pain inflicted by this experience still lingers.
“The way he made me feel in that consulting room I’ve never felt before” Allan says in a Hepatitis Victoria podcast and video.
This is just one story of many that stop people from seeking the health care they need.
‘Stigma Stories’ features individual anecdotes of hepatitis-related stigma and discrimination. The narratives will be delivered through a creative 12-part series of short videos that provide a “first-hand” insight into the issues often faced by people affected by viral hepatitis.
The first instalment of the campaign will be released via social media today with successive videos released monthly.
More than 400,000 people in Australia are living with chronic hepatitis, despite the availability of immunisations for hepatitis B and curative treatments for hepatitis C.
“Many choose not speak openly about their hepatitis status out of fear of being treated differently by family, friends, and professionals,” said Melanie Eagle CEO of Hepatitis Victoria. “Stigma is a major barrier that stops people getting tested and treated - resulting in potentially deadly consequences.”
A strong social stigma has been created due to the virus’ association with drug use. Too often people living with hepatitis are subject to stigma and discrimination based on misunderstandings around the virus and its transmission.
“Stigma stops individuals expressing themselves and living the lives they want to lead,” said Melanie.
Dr. Bastian Seidel, President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said, “stigma against patients with viral hepatitis is one of the biggest barriers preventing Australian patients from seeking medical care for their condition or even getting tested. Specialist GPs have a vital role to play in providing support and advice to these patients.”
Hepatitis Victoria recently surveyed one hundred and twenty-six people living with viral hepatitis looking at the extent of stigma and discrimination. 85 per cent of respondents reported experiencing an instance of hepatitis-related stigma and discrimination at least once in their life. In addition, more than half of the participants reported avoiding engaging in certain activities (such as seeing a health professional) out of concern over being treated differently.
You can follow the campaign on Hepatitis Victoria’s website, Facebook and Instagram or by searching the hashtag #StigmaStops on Twitter.