Health experts in the UK have called for a national campaign similar to the AIDS tombstone advert to end the hepatitis C epidemic and stigma about the virus.
Politicians in Westminster were told yesterday that the lethal combination of stigma, low public awareness and cuts to sexual health services have created a national epidemic with the LGBTI community in the UK particularly at risk.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Liver Health, which is holding an inquiry into hepatitis C, was told that less than 40% of people who are carrying the killer virus know that have it.
Public Health England estimate around 160,000 people carry the virus. People become infected through blood-to blood contact, poorly sterilized medical or tattoo equipment, intravenous drug use, blood transfusions and sexual contact. It can be cured by anti-viral drugs but if left untreated it can cause cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
The rise of chemsex, particularly among gay men, is among the factors for the rise in cases.
David Stuart, Substance Misuse Lead at the 56 Dean Street sexual health center in London is one of the UK’s experts on chemsex.
He told the meeting that gay men using mephedrone was an issue: ‘There has been an increase in injecting drug use among gay men. We’ve not seen a large increase but there has been an increase. There are issues around chemsex which we need to address.’
Testing for the virus was critical but Stuart warned cuts to services were having a direct impact.
‘The reason we can’t beat the epidemic is we’re not getting people who are infected or carriers. It’s because we’ve been capped with numbers. Six sexual health clinics have closed in London over the last few months. We’ve had a rush of people who used to test elsewhere,’ he said.
‘It’s like closing A&E units. Trusts are closing more of the testing centers and encouraging people to test at home. It’s a terribly frightening test – the stigma of the disease – to do at home.’
Among the sexual health clinics to close in London in the last six months are the clinic at the Royal Free in Hampstead, and two in South London run by Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust. Read more via Gay Star News