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Hep C and Aboriginal peoples
In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, hep C is found at more than twice the rate as for the wider community; a discrepancy that has the potential to impact on the excess levels of illness experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (see the Close The Gap website, below).
Factors that may contribute to higher reported rates of bloodborne viruses and sexually transmitted infections among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people include:
- Less access to health services: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have less access to culturally appropriate primary health care services to facilitate early detection, treatment and follow up.
- Shortage of clinical staff: Access to health services is further exacerbated in many communities by the limited number of clinicians (particularly of the same gender) who are able to deal sensitively and competently with bloodborne virus health issues.
- Transmission dynamics: There is limited information comparing differences in behavioural patterns between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non- Indigenous people. However, there is the potential for differences in transmission risk due to networks of contact within cultural groups.
- High rates of screening: In some remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, high rates of screening have led to early detection and treatment of infections.
- A younger and more mobile population: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a much younger and more mobile population compared with the non-Indigenous population, adding to the complexity of appropriate testing and treatment.
- Socio-economic disadvantage including lower educational standards and subsequent lower health literacy is a predictor of poor health.
- Shame and historical factors associated with treatment for bloodborne viruses.
- Mainstream bloodborne virus social marketing messages do not always reach and have impact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.
A general overview:
Helping to address health imbalances is a challenge for those working in our health system. In general, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not aware that there is treatment for hep C.
Trust is a key element for healthcare workers in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Relationship building with Indigenous organisations, communities and individuals is crucial and it takes time.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-represented in prisons. In NSW, Aboriginal people make up around 2.2% of the general population, but they represent 20% of the male and 32% of the female prison population (DCS, 2007).
Hep C treatment needs to be flexible. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people think of hospitals as the ‘sick’ place rather than a healing place.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who inject drugs are marginalised and shamed within their own communities. Hep C is associated with injecting and it carries stigma.
A question of priority. With the many health issues potentially affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the comparatively lower life expectancy, hep C is often not a priority.
For more information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples' health, visit the following websites:
NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs (web link)
Close The Gap (web link)
Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet (web link)
And check out the following resources:
Working with Aboriginal Peoples - 1.3MB PDF
Good places where anyone can get information about hep C are AMSs, GPs, sexual health workers and the Hepatitis Helpline.
For more information on hep C, see the other parts of our website and check out:
Hep C and us mob booklet - 4MB PDF
Let's yarn up hep C poster - 2MB PDF
Our website is always evolving. If you have ideas or feedback on how we can improve this page, or if you come across errors, please email us by clicking here (don't forget to tell us which page you are providing feedback on).
Stock photos used. People shown may have no actual connection with hepatitis C.
Top image by TysonA, taken with thanks from www.flickr.com
This page last updated 8 Mar 2012