New study: hepatitis C treatment in the age of elimination

A team of researchers led by DruGS Program Leader Professor Suzanne Fraser will begin work this month on a new project investigating impediments to hepatitis C treatment uptake, including the role of stigma, in era focussed on elimination. Entitled ‘Lived experiences of treatment for hepatitis C in Australia: An online resource for people considering treatment, members of the public, healthcare workers and other professionals’, the project is funded by the Australian Research Council, and coordinated by Dr Adrian Farrugia and Dr Renae Fomiatti. This is an exciting time for the team as this is our first major new project since relocating to the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University.

Project Lead Professor Suzanne Fraser

The project will begin with the formation of an advisory panel of peer advocates, healthcare workers, service providers and individual involved in policy development. The team will then begin work developing the materials needed to conduct interviews and, later this year, commence recruitment.

Efforts to eliminate hepatitis C depend on consistently high rates of treatment uptake. Reaching all those affected by the disease, informing them about new treatment options, and making sure care and aftercare are adequate, are ongoing challenges. While hepatitis C elimination is an important public health goal, not enough is known about experiences of hepatitis C, its treatment and health experiences post-treatment, in this new age in which hepatitis C elimination seems possible. By collecting and analysing in-depth qualitative interviews with affected individuals, this project will produce urgently needed detailed understandings of, experiences of and meanings given to hepatitis C for people affected by it, helping to identify impediments to treatment uptake, including the role of stigma, and ways of improving treatment experiences. The project will also turn these data and our research insights into a ground-breaking website aimed at informing the public, helping affected individuals find out about, and make decisions about, treatment. The website will speak directly to potential treatment users and their friends and families, while also informing health workers and other relevant professionals about the new treatments and the issues surrounding them. As such, it will also tackle the stigma associated with injecting drug consumption and hepatitis C.

As Suzanne explains,

The stigmatisation of hepatitis C, means disclosure and seeking support can often lead to discrimination. While viral elimination is an important goal, we must continue our efforts to tackle stigma and other forms of disadvantage faced by people affected by hepatitis C. Our job in this project is to explore these issues and also identify practical obstacles to treatment access, and find new ways of supporting people affected by hepatitis C.

The project team comprises:

Chief investigators

Partner investigators

  • Dr Michael Edwards, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales
  • Elizabeth Birbilis, Department of Health and Human Services

Project staff

  • Dr Adrian Farrugia, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University
  • Dr Renae Fomiatti, Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society, La Trobe University