Conference vows to eliminate hepatitis C

Technical advisor for TB HIV Care, Dr Andrew Scheibe and President of the International Network on Hepatitis in Substance Users, Professor Jason Grebely at the first INHSU conference held in Africa.

The first International Network on Hepatitis in Substance Users (INHSU) conference held in Africa made an African Declaration to eliminate hepatitis C on the continent and improve the health of drug users.

The four-day INHSU conference, held from Monday February 17 to Thursday February 20 in Woodstock, brought together policy-makers, members of government and non-profit organisations from across Africa and World Health Organisation members who worked towards advocacy and sharing policy ideas on how to eliminate Hepatitis C in Africa by 2030.

The INHSU African Declaration provides a framework for advocacy with national governments, with clear calls to action moving forward to tackle hepatitis C.

President of INHSU, Professor Jason Grebely says his organisation is an international network which looks at improving the lives of people that use drugs with the focus on hepatitis C infections.

“We do training and education for various organisations, doctors, nurses, policy makers, researchers and other healthcare practitioners, and we try to drive forward policy and advocacy to increase awareness around drug users and hepatitis C “ he said.

TB HIV Care, which is a non-profit that does work across 22 districts in South Africa, is one of INHSU’s partners in creating awareness about hepatitis C.

Technical advisor for TB HIV Care, Dr Andrew Scherzi says that most member states in Africa, including South Africa, have pledged to end viral hepatitis by 2030.

“Our organisation of TB HIV Care, did studies to acknowledge that hepatitis C is an important health concern,” he said.

“We started to develop information materials, we’re involved in training health care workers and get better access to testing for people using drugs and we did a small pilot programme where we worked with UCT’s liver clinic to treat some people with hepatitis C.” he said.

This conference brought people together from all backgrounds of healthcare to share the common goal of providing their information and experience on hepatitis C.

Dr Sadiki Mandari works in the National Mental Hospital for the health ministry in Tanzania. He says this conference is important because he deals with people who have hepatitis C who are injecting themselves with drugs.

“I learnt more about hepatitis C, and I would like to share it with my health ministry to create awareness to enforce what was shared at the conference,” he said.

Area co-ordinator for Goodwood Correctional Centre, Jerome Samuels says while they are well equipped to deal with HIV and TB testing of prisoners, testing for hepatitis C is a new concept for correctional services.

“We are in a joint venture with TB HIV Care in doing testing for hepatitis C in our correctional environment as there are many drug users that are coming into the prisons,” he said.

Wangari Kimemia from Kenya works for French non-profit Medecins du Monde, which has a branch in Nairobi.

“Our organisation helps vulnerable groups like sex workers, poor people and drug users and offers medical support and advocacy because we want to influence long-term change,” she said.

Ms Kimemia says the most important part of this conference is to expand the role of advocacy and training to the government.

“We want the law to change, we want government to have a closer look at drug users, not labelling them as criminals but as people that need help, because they hide they don’t want to come forward to get tested for hepatitis C,” she said.

Some of the ideas shared by the INHSU African declaration to eliminate Hepatitis C, includes government upscaling more harmful prevention services; that more health services should be made available to drug users; more support be given for community organisations treating drugs by governments; affordable access to medicines for all healthcare workers; and to take away the stigma against people using drugs.