New Zealand Needle Exchange Monday 10 September 2012, 11:16AM
Media release from New Zealand Needle Exchange
New Zealand Needle Exchange National Manager Charles Henderson says
New Zealanders need to wake up to the fact that the hepatitis C
virus (HCV) can affect anyone and that stigmatising those with the
disease could be doing the whole population harm.
"Discrimination against people who are already vulnerable to the
effects of an illness can be a profoundly negative experience and
can stop them from seeking further health care.
"When people are too scared to put their hand up for treatment,
their health problems are likely to be compounded and their
potential for spreading infection to others in the wider community
increases. It also means opportunities to reach these people with
information about how to prevent transmission become significantly
limited," he says.
Mr Henderson made the comments as the 8th Australasian Viral
Hepatitis Conference gets underway in Auckland today.
"Currently, around 50,000 New Zealanders are affected by HCV and
many are unaware they have it," Mr Henderson said.
"Fifteen hundred new HCV cases occur in New Zealand every year, and
anyone can become a victim, not just drug users, as many people
He says discrimination against those infected with HCV is very
common and can come from employers, insurance companies and even
family and friends.
"This means people who fear they may have become infected are
reluctant to seek help, and remain a risk at large in the
"People don't realise that many people become infected with HCV
just by coming in contact with contaminated blood, not because they
are illicit drug users. Others may be carrying the disease because
of a foolish mistake they made 20 years ago, and to treat these
people like lepers contradicts the principles of natural justice
and that's just not the Kiwi way."
HCV, which can go undetected for years, deteriorates the liver
which seriously affects an individual's quality of life and can
lead to early death. It can remain active in blood outside the body
for up to three months and is 100 times more infectious than HIV.
There is no immunisation or cure.
Mr Henderson says the respectful treatment of all HCV-affected
people is crucial in reducing the impact of the illness on the
community at large.
"It is only by providing non-judgmental medical services that HCV
affected people will access appropriate health care and the
information they need to reduce the risk of passing the disease to
"Where there is openness, acceptance and compassion, people close
to an HCV-infected person have little to fear because transmission
of the disease is easily managed. It is only passed on through
contact with blood, not through saliva or by touch."
Mr Henderson says prevention policy initiatives need to be more
wide-ranging, innovative and socially progressive.
"Campaigns to educate intravenous drug users are vital, but unless
we also address the lack of awareness in the community and within
the health sector, that feeds discrimination, we will not be able
to significantly reduce rates of new infections and turn the tide
of this neglected epidemic.
"The fact is HCV can affect anyone, and people need to question
themselves (rather than stigmatise others) and get tested if they
think they could be at risk."