Removing stigma to beat hepatitis C

Westmead Hospital Women’s Health Clinic imaging nurse Christine Face won a K-Mart voucher for completing an online module around stigma and hep C.

Over 9,000 people in Western Sydney are living with hepatitis C; many of them unaware they have the virus.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact and, if left untreated, can lead to serious or fatal liver damage.

The challenge now is to eliminate the burden of stigma to empower people to come forward for testing, according to health promotion officer Anju Devkota.

“Stigma is a reality that people living with blood-borne viruses know by experience,” Anju said.

“Studies have identified stigma and discrimination as leading causes for missed diagnoses of HIV and viral hepatitis, and for the failure of people living with these conditions to engage with the health system and seek timely care.”

The NSW HIV, Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B Strategies recognise the importance of maintaining an enabling environment to reduce stigma and discrimination, and increase testing, treatment and prevention for blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in priority populations.

Haematology research nurse Elissa Atkins said the interactive training used familiar scenarios to challenge her preconceptions of drug use.

In response to this, WSLHD HIV and Related Programs (HARP) Health Promotion unit ran an incentivised campaign to encourage staff across the district to complete the ‘Stigma, Discrimination & Injecting Drug Use’ (Course Code: 96479339) module on My Health Learning.

A total of 221 WSLHD staff completed the module during the campaign period, and in doing so entered the prize draw to win a $50 of K-Mart voucher.

The four lucky winners (chosen at random) were Elissa Atkins, Christine Face and Ebony Gough from Westmead Hospital, and Jennifer Lohan from the Westmead Research and Education Network. Congratulations!

Christine, an imaging nurse in the Women’s Health Clinic, said the module helped her identify some unhelpful stigmas.

“I learnt that you truly can’t judge a book by its cover, people all have their problems and many are hidden, and not everyone who appears unkempt is a bad person,” she said.

“I have always tried to not judge, but the module pointed out how easy it is to misjudge people and their circumstances.”

More than 24,000 people have been cured of hepatitis C in NSW since new treatments became available in 2016. It is estimated that 58,000 people across the state are yet to seek treatment.

The symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  • Tiredness, lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • In rare cases, dark urine and pale stools

These symptoms may pass after a few days or weeks, but the virus can remain active for many years and cause serious and potentially fatal liver damage.

Hepatitis C is spread through blood to blood contact. Those at risk include anyone who has ever injected drugs, been in prison, received a blood transfusion in Australia before February 1990, or were born in or received medical treatment in a region with high prevalence of hepatitis C, including in Asia and the Middle East.

If you think you may be at risk, speak to your GP for a free test or email For more information see the NSW Health website.