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Promoting health, reducing stigma: closing the inequality gap in access to primary health care for women living with hepatitis C.
Maria Karvelas, Sandy Gifford, Mary O'Brien, Cathy Banwell and Gabriele Bammer
One of the major challenges facing women diagnosed with hepatitis C is overcoming the stigma attached to this illness which frequently acts as a barrier to appropriate and timely primary health care. This paper reports on the preliminary results of a large cross-sectional survey administered to women living with hepatitis C with the aim of documenting their key health issues and the ways that the illness has impacted on their lives. In this presentation, we describe the experiences of women at the time of their hepatitis C diagnosis and their ongoing needs in relation to information and care.
The aim of the survey was to identify the health, personal and support needs of women who are living with hepatitis C. A self-administered questionnaire was distributed to 600 women drawn from hospital liver clinics and a range of community organisations such as Hepatitis C Councils, Needle and Syringe Programs and treatment centres. Women were aged 18 to 75 years and were living in Victoria and the ACT.
Preliminary analysis of these data suggests that the majority of women are still not receiving pre- and post-test counselling at the time of diagnosis. In general, women were informed of their hepatitis C status during a brief consultation with their general practitioner. While most consultations were conducted face to face, a group of women reported that they were first informed of their hepatitis C status over the telephone. Survey results also indicated that women were not given information in relation to the transmission of hepatitis C and how it may impact on their health as well as their quality of life. Moreover, these women were not offered information about counseling and hepatitis C support and information groups at the time of diagnosis.
Finally, our results indicate that women experience considerable stigma attached to the diagnosis and that this specifically acts as a barrier to equitable and appropriate support and care within the primary health sector. We conclude with a number of specific recommendations for improving the gender specific and generic primary health sector responses to the needs of women who are living with hepatitis C.