HIV and Hepatitis C Advocacy Workshop : A Hopeful Outlook For the Future

What we are fighting for

The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a virus that is found in blood. It infects liver cells and can cause a range of health problems, including serious, even deadly, liver damage. But it doesn’t have to. HCV has become easy to cure, usually with 12 weeks of once-daily pills. HCV treatment works for people who are living with HIV and/or injecting drugs during HCV treatment. Yet 400,000 people die from HCV each year – a third of whom are people who inject drugs.

Although HCV is preventable, over 1.5 million people are newly infected each year, 23% of whom are people who inject drugs. PWID often lack access to sterile needles, syringes and other paraphernalia; this prohibition allows HCV to keep spreading. Although they are the most affected population, people who inject drugs are often left behind, due to stigma and criminalization: access to HCV testing and treatment is not reaching them.

“I almost died because of hepatitis C. I’d already been HIV positive for 15 years before I learned about my hepatitis C status. I only found out because I got sick during a visit to the US and when a doctor asked me how my hepatitis was. I told him I didn’t know what that was and he had to explain it to me. Many of my friends living with HIV died of HCV. I’m glad that right now HCV can be cured. You just take the pill once a day for 3 or 6 months. But we have already lost so many friends living with HIV, who died not knowing that they had hepatitis C.” –

Paisan “Ott” Suwannawong – Founder Thai AIDS Treatment Action Group & Thai Drug Users’ Network

HCV-HIV Advocacy workshop

Led by GNP+ and supported by BtG, the HCV-HIV Advocacy workshop took place from 11-14 November 2019 at the Sonke Gender Justice headquarters in Cape Town. 21 community peer workers and advocates attended the workshop coming from different provinces in South Africa. GNP+ designed the workshop specifically to build capacity on hepatitis C among people who inject drugs (PWID), including those living with HIV and their peers, activists and other allies. The participants were selected in collaboration with the South African TB/HIV Care Association with the aim of identifying local champions to carry out advocacy campaigns following the workshop. The training focused on creating local strategies to increase access to HCV prevention services, diagnostics and new oral treatments for people who use drugs in South Africa.

Participants during the advocacy workshop in Cape Town, South Africa

How we are fighting for it

The workshop and curriculum were designed to inform and train PWID from different local networks and organizations in South Africa so that they can use and spread the gained knowledge to their communities through a Training of Trainers (ToT) approach. The South African representatives of people who inject drugs participated in the interactive training course and developed advocacy plans and strategies based on what their communities need: access to HCV prevention, diagnostics and new oral treatments. The scientific  knowledge they gained during the workshop prepared them to be involved in HCV/HIV policymaking and programming – the “nothing about us, without us” approach.

What’s next?

During the Cape Town workshop, two community champions were identified to be supported to participate in the advocacy and policy workshop organised prior to the International Network on Hepatitis in Substance Users (INSHU) conference that will take place in Cape Town in February 2020. They will engage with other HIV, HCV and Harm Reduction advocates to build a national network to influence policy-makers with the aim of increasing access to HCV prevention services, diagnostics and new oral treatments for PWID in South Africa. Also in February, another HCV-HIV Advocacy workshop will be organised in Nairobi for Kenyan community advocates. 

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