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Hepatitis C testing in the community

District's Mobile Health Clinic visits Riverwood.

SydneyConnect Video: Hepatitis Awareness Week

Sydney Local Health District is making it easier for vulnerable people to get tested for Hepatitis C - with its Mobile Health Clinic offering the testing at Riverwood for the first time.

The District's HIV and Related Programs (HARP) partnered with Hepatitis NSW, NSW Users and AIDS Association, colleagues at South Eastern Sydney Local Health District and local pharmacies dispensing methadone to provide Dried Blood Spot (DBS) testing during Hepatitis Awareness Week.

"We are out in the community because it really gets rid of those barriers that some people may encounter when accessing health services. We understand there's a lot of stigma and shame associated with testing for HIV and Hep C, so we like to really make it as easy as possible," Brooke Dailey, HARP Programs and Operations Manager, said.

Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus - meaning it's transmitted through blood-to-blood contact with someone who already has it. The virus causes a liver infection which can lead to long term health issues if it's not treated.

Hepatitis NSW states about 42,000 people in NSW have Hepatitis C (as at September 2020), and many don't realise they have it.

It states sharing or reusing other people's drug injecting equipment - like needles and syringes - is the most common way for people in Australia to get Hepatitis C.

It estimates about eight out of 10 people with Hepatitis C in Australia are infected this way.

"Having a testing option that is adaptable to the circumstances of the people needing it is important. Often, people who are living with Hep C have barriers to testing, they may not be well connected to a GP or a clinician, or have had bad experiences in accessing health care so being able to do a simple finger prick test from home or with a service they trust can really make a difference to getting people tested and treated," Nigel Carrington, NSW Dried Blood Spot Study Coordinator, said.

The District's Mobile Health Clinic boosts access to primary health care services for those people who face an increased risk of developing preventable diseases or conditions. It is a custom-designed truck with a patient waiting area and a consultation room.

A DBS test which is a free, simple and accurate way to test for HIV and Hepatitis C. It involves a few drops of blood collected from a finger prick.

A Medicare card wasn't required to be tested. People also had the chance to engage with peer support workers who have first-hand experience of completing Hepatitis C treatment.

There is now effective medication to treat - and cure - Hepatitis C.

"In March 2016 new treatments arrived for Hep C. It is very easy to be administered orally with very minimal side effects. And, the clearance rate is much higher than what we saw with the previous treatments," Brooke said.

Hepatitis Awareness Week aims to encourage people who may be at risk to ask for a test and to seek treatment.

To access to a DBS test, visit https://www.dbstest.health.nsw.gov.au/