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How stigma is entrenched by 'disease prestige'

29 October 2018

Around six million Australians (over a quarter of the population) are living with some form of liver condition, and liver cancer is the fastest growing cancer in the country, but public awareness and discussion of the issue is disproportionately low.

So low in fact that this public health burden is expected to rapidly rise by 2030 with severe consequences including more pressure on the already over-burdened liver transplant list, and an increasing number of preventable deaths. 

According to Melanie Eagle, CEO of Hepatitis Victoria, ‘disease prestige’ and stigmatisation are contributing to the lack of awareness, and preventing  people from taking action to manage their liver health. 

“Liver diseases are generally considered to be lifestyle related, and consequently, a social ‘blame game’ takes place,” says Eagle.

“People who have been diagnosed with behavioural-related conditions are less respected for reasons such as ‘they deserved it’ or that it’s ‘their own fault’, without any consideration for the motivation or issues behind those behaviours.

“What follows is a sense of shame on the person living with the condition,” she says. 

But a new campaign, called Love Your Liver aims to break down the misunderstanding around liver health, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, and emphasise that people living with viral hepatitis can lead happy, healthy lives.

The campaign is running in parts of regional Victoria including Shepparton, Traralgon and the Dandenong areaa where rates of viral hepatitis are disproportionately high.

Hepatitis Victoria is calling on the community and health sector – and the media - to get behind the Love your Liver campaign, to call out the stigma, highlight the loneliness and isolation that people experience with this health condition, and help to eradicate the fear and misunderstanding surrounding liver health and viral hepatitis.

Says Eagle, “let’s end this deadly popularity contest once and for all, encourage people to take positive steps to manage their liver health, and highlight they can and deserve to lead happy, healthy lives”.

 

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