In the past five years the number of people thought to have hepatitis C in the UK has reduced dramatically.But, on World Hepatitis Day, drug, alcohol and mental health charity We Are With You in Lanarkshire says more needs to be done to meet the UK’s target of eliminating the virus by 2025.
Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus that can infect the liver, with 92% of infections through injecting drugs. Hep C is often symptomless until it reaches the chronic stage – and if left untreated, it can be fatal.
The number of people thought to have hepatitis C in the UK has reduced from more than 182,000 in 2015 to around 143,000 in 2019. However there is still a way to go for the UK to meet its target set by the World Health Organization of eliminating the virus by 2025.
In Lanarkshire, drug and alcohol workers at We Are With You are working hard to get more people tested and into treatment and support.
Helen Hampton, who is We Are With You’s lead clinical nurse for blood borne viruses, explained: “An important part of our charity’s work is taking outreach, diagnosis and treatment for hep C into the community and away from hospitals. By continuing to do this, we can reach, test and treat more people and ultimately help WHO achieve global elimination.”
Jackie (not her real name) accessed treatment for hepatitis C. She said:
“My ex-partner died from hepatitis C. I watched him die what was quite a painful death and it got me really worried about my own health, so I approached We Are With You to get tested.
“I thought it would be painful but it was just a pinprick; I barely felt anything. The staff were really supportive throughout. All I had to do was take a tablet every day for three months. That was it. When I came off the treatment I was concerned the virus may return but I’m now cured and feel better than ever.
“I would urge anyone who thinks there’s a chance they may have it to get in touch with their local drug and alcohol service. It’s just one step and it will save your life.”
Marc Simpson, who works at the We Are With You service in South Lanarkshire, said: “We launched our Positive Support service in 2011 to help people across Lanarkshire get hepatitis diagnosis, support and treatment. As 92% of hepatitis C infections are caused by injecting drugs, we have the specialist knowledge to be able to support the majority of people who have the condition.
“We work closely with NHS harm reduction teams, who put people in the community in touch with us. We take over their care at this point – which could be anything from testing them for hepatitis, free of charge, to taking them to hospital appointments and giving them emotional and practical support. We work with more than 100 people a year in Lanarkshire and it’s amazing to see them progress through treatment and go on to live full and healthy lives.
“Medicine has come so far in recent years that it’s possible to treat and cure hep C with easy-to-take tablets in 8 to 16 weeks. Everyone’s situation is different, so we work closely with hospital staff and consultants to take people on the treatment paths that are right for them.
“Anyone who’s concerned they might have hep C should give We Are With You in Lanarkshire a ring on 0800 599 9774, or you can speak to a trained advisor online via our webchat service. Just visit www.wearewithyou.org.uk.”
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