Irish Penal Reform Trust

The Irish Times: 'High levels of hepatitis C uncovered among prisoners and homeless'

23rd August 2017

Writing in The Irish Times, Paul Cullen reports that more than 200 prisoners at Mountjoy Prison have engaged in the new Hepatitis C screening programme, over a two-day period.

A new ‘buddy system’ has been established through a collaboration with the Red Cross and the Irish Prison Service. This buddy system relies on prisoner volunteers to inform their peers about the benefit of getting tested, and also has a high level of support from prison staff.

The programme has been shown to be highly effective as there has been a significant increase in the number of prisoners who have engaged with the service. Out of 700 prisoners who were offered the screening, 500 accepted.

IPRT addressed the fact that that Hepatitis C (along with other infectious diseases, such as HIV and TB) pose a significant health risk in prisons, and called for better monitoring mechanisms in 2016, in the Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction report. This report formed part an EU co-funded project implemented under the lead of Harm Reduction International in 2015 and 2016.

In the IPRT report, it was highlighted that prisons are high-risk environments for the transmission of such diseases due to the over-incarceration of vulnerable and disadvantaged groups, who carry a disproportionately high burden of ill-health; the criminalisation of drug users and high levels of injecting drug use; overcrowding and substandard prison conditions; inadequate health care; and the denial of harm reduction services. It was also pointed out in 2016, that there was a need to update data collection about the prevalence of such diseases in prisons in Ireland.

Hepatitis C is now highly treatable and curable, which is why it is so important to get a diagnosis. Dr Jack Lambert, a specialist in liver disease at the Mater hospital, is quoted in The Irish Times article as saying the Mountjoy programme was a “success story” that should be used as a model for prisons internationally.

To read the Irish Times article, click here.

To read the IPRT’s Improving Prison Conditions by Strengthening the Monitoring of HIV, HCV, TB and Harm Reduction report click here.

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