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Abhishek Udani

I am Hep Hero because I believe education, information and increased awareness of viral hepatitis will break the cycles of stigma and discrimination.

Viral hepatitis is one of the most prevalent and serious infectious diseases across the globe. It infects people that are poor and that are rich, regardless of their ethnicity or religion background.

Through my journey as a clinical coordinator and physician assistant from India, I came in contact with many HBV and HCV positive patients. I have witnessed individuals with first time diagnosis of this virus and most of them feel all kinds of disturbing emotions such as shock, fear, confusion, denial, shame, regret, blame, and anger.

Individual’s negative attitudes and responses towards hepatitis are associated with a lack of knowledge about causes of hepatitis and routes of transmission. In addition to this, most of the time individuals suffering from HCV and HBV are more concerned about social stigma and discrimination associated with it. 

As a health educator from India, I was involved in various community engagement activities and health awareness campaigns in urban and rural areas and try to eliminate negative attitude, myths, poor knowledge, and misconceptions among the community.

I believe that the knowledge and skills that I have gained through my masters in public health has helped me to work as health promotion educator and use core competencies in various aspects of health promotion project planning, implementing and evaluating health promotion program.

Young people in Australia are a priority population due to a higher risk of acquiring viral hepatitis. It is always challenging delivering viral hepatitis prevention interventions in young people, and it requires a range of creative and innovative approaches.

Hepatitis Victoria has been conducting the Street Shot photo and video Competition since 2010, with 135 services and schools and over 1978 young people across Victoria have participated in last seven years. I have been involved with Hepatitis Victoria as a volunteer through the unique hepatitis awareness program StreetShot 2017.

It utilizes photography as a medium to engage young people in health promotion around hepatitis prevention. Photography is a medium that facilitates discussions about complex and challenging health concepts. The project was very successful in engaging both with new community-based services and young people considered at risk of hepatitis C transmission. 

It is believed that stigma is associated with blood borne viruses including lifestyle and emotional complexity, fear of transmitting the disease, loss of employment, isolation from society and problems with close relationships.

The consequences of stigma and discrimination are widespread, and many individuals deliberately stay away from family, peers and face poor treatment in workplace and health care settings.

Most of the time fear and stigma are the main reason people are reluctant to get knowledge of viral hepatitis and disclose their hepatitis positive status. I believe changing stigma and discrimination mainly involves education to change beliefs and attitudes. 

Australia has amongst the most culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) populations in the world, meaning we have high notifications of HBV and HCV in the CALD Australian populations. The language barrier, lack of knowledge on viral hepatitis and fear of discrimination or stigma are the main barriers for the elimination of hepatitis in communities.

Abhishek's message to others:

There is a critical need to raise community awareness to the issue and improve access to viral hepatitis testing, vaccination, and treatment.

 

It also requires a more supportive social environment for individuals infected with these blood-borne viruses. I believe there is a need for effective strategies and comprehensive approach to breaking the cycle of discrimination and stigma.