On July 28, we commemorated World Hepatitis Day, a crucial moment to raise awareness about this global health challenge. However, to make a real impact, we must confront the stark reality faced by people who use drugs—a population disproportionately burdened by viral hepatitis.
An alarming 82 percent of the 400,000 annual global deaths related to hepatitis C occur among people who use drugs. In states like Florida, the prevalence of hepatitis C is a staggering 99 times higher in people who inject drugs compared to the general population. Moreover, over half of those with both viral hepatitis and HIV belong to this vulnerable group.
Discrimination, stigma, and political apathy have severely limited access to vital hepatitis services for people who use drugs, hindering detection, treatment, and prevention efforts. Many treatment centers still fail to fully include or even discriminate against this population, creating barriers to their care and well-being.
This discrimination not only violates their right to health but also leads to underreporting and undermanagement, hampering broader global efforts to combat these diseases effectively.
To reverse this dire situation, we must end drug criminalization and discrimination, ensuring people who use drugs have equal access to healthcare. Integrating viral hepatitis prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and care within holistic, person-centered harm reduction services is vital. Scaling up existing harm reduction centers can deliver non-discriminatory and non-paternalistic hepatitis services effectively.
It's time to replicate the successful HIV prevention models for viral hepatitis, offering equal opportunities for care and dignity. By embracing proven frameworks and a person-centered approach, we can make a rapid impact on prevalence and refuse to accept the disproportionate suffering faced by people who use drugs. Together, we can create a world where everyone has access to quality healthcare and a chance at a healthy, vibrant life.