Despite the fact that harm reduction services and ideas are always started by people who use drugs, they are not always included in the design and delivery of these programs as they become more formalized, especially in healthcare settings and for medical issues related to drug use.
As deaths from many communicable diseases continue to decline globally, deaths caused by viral hepatitis have now surpassed all other chronic infectious diseases, including HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Yet it is one of the few global health threats with easy solutions. Highly effective vaccines exist for hepatitis A and B. We now have a cure for hepatitis C. With these tools at our disposal, why aren’t we seeing an impact on the epidemic?
Every year on July 28, we mark World Hepatitis Day with an event to educate, gather together, and also remember those we have lost from the hepatitis C community. This year, we should have much to celebrate: in early 2017, medications that had previously been unavailable were finally added to some formularies, including Ontario’s. This means that people with certain types of hepatitis C who have been waiting years to access safe, effective medication will finally be able to start treatment and be cured. For many, being cured means avoiding potentially fatal outcomes like liver failure and liver cancer. It also means shedding the burden of carrying a highly stigmatized illness that is often met with ignorance, ostracism and discrimination.
At the opening of the recent 25th Harm Reduction International Conference in Montreal, the Minister of Health Jane Philpott announced that more people have died in the overdose epidemic in the past few years than died during the height of the AIDS crisis in the late 80s and early 90s. In 2016, it is estimated that 2,300 people died of overdose—preventable deaths caused by the prohibition of drugs.
In response to that sobering and sad announcement, we wrote an article asking for people engaged in the response to HIV to show support and solidarity with people who use drugs. We believe that making connections between the two epidemics can help build solidarity, increase public support and mobilize people into action to address the national overdose crisis. We wrote:
“People who have lived through the AIDS crisis, who work in HIV organizations, who call themselves allies of the HIV community, who have attended an HIV fundraiser, who have learned about the history of AIDS activism, we make an appeal to you: The time for you to step up and end the massive injustice taking place against people who use drugs is now. We need more resources. We need the government to take our solutions seriously. We need the overdose epidemic to be declared a national emergency. Help us do this.”
So what can you do if you want to show support and solidarity? Here are six things you and your organization can do:
The CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.