Members of Scottish Parliament yesterday highlighted the importance of hepatitis C prevention and awareness as part of a broader debate on Scotland’s approach to drug and alcohol use.
Hepatitis C Parliamentary Champion Alison Johnstone welcomed the commitment to hepatitis C elimination contained in the Scottish Government’s new drug and alcohol strategy, but highlighted her concerns that it does not focus sufficiently on preventing the transmission of blood-borne viruses. She also welcomed the strategy’s commitment to reducing barriers to hepatitis C treatment in the community, but noted that significantly greater prevention efforts would be required to decrease overall prevalence of hepatitis C.
Brian Whittle MSP also highlighted the need to scale up prevention efforts to make significant progress towards elimination, emhpasising the importance of sufficient needle exchange provision to preventing hepatitis C.
Tom Arthur MSP, a long-time supporter of The Hepatitis C Trust, addressed the issue of stigma, noting that many hepatitis C patients perceive stigma surrounding hepatitis C as being even greater than stigma around HIV/AIDS, and report feeling ‘dirty’ following a diagnosis. He pointed to links between stigma surrounding hepatitis C and stigma surrounding drug use, and emphasised the importance of using de-stigmatising language.
Points made by the MSPs echo many of the recommendations contained in The Hepatitis C Trust’s January 2018 report Eliminating Hepatitis C in Scotland: A Call to Action, which includes calls for the delivery of treatment in the community and adequate provision of injecting equipment in pharmacies and substance misuse services.
The Scottish Government has previously stated that it plans to release a national elimination strategy for hepatitis C.
Read a transcript of the debate here.