This research investigates a range of issues concerning hepatitis C and Indigenous people in Victoria. Access to anti-viral treatment for hepatitis C has improved over the past few years, with over 3,500 people in 2007 accessing treatment throughout Australia; however with 207,600 people estimated to be infected, treatment uptake still remains low. While the goal of increasing the number of people on treatment for hepatitis is necessary, there are many other critical issues which need to be addressed if the burden of hepatitis in Indigenous communities throughout Australia is to be reduced. This research begins to address these issues.
Hepatitis C within Indigenous communities continues to challenge policy makers and health care providers. Due to the many competing issues faced by Indigenous communities throughout Australia, hepatitis C is often considered by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians as a low priority. Our current knowledge about hepatitis C in Indigenous communities relies on epidemiological data, which tend to be of limited value and uneven. There is very little evidence available to help policy makers and health care workers respond to the rising number of Indigenous people with hepatitis C.
This research began with the question: How to improve access to hepatitis C treatment services for Indigenous people in Victoria. In retrospect this is the wrong question to ask. Focusing on identifying and understanding barriers and challenges associated with accessing treatment makes sense given the recent improvements in treatment success experienced in Australia. However, findings from this study show that there are other important issues relating to hepatitis C for Indigenous communities which must be addressed. These issues are in stark
contrast to the issues facing the broader Australian community. For example, very few Indigenous people access medical services that in turn provide access to information about hepatitis C treatment. The results from this study confirm this assumption. Low treatment uptake and low awareness about the virus is a result of having to compete with a range of other health and social issues. To focus solely on treatment is not the sole answer to the challenges facing indigenous communities with hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is under-recognised amongst Indigenous communities and as a consequence, the response remains inadequate.