Vienna, 25 July 2014 - Hepatitis C is a gravely debilitating disease and the growing cause of early death and severe liver disease among those who inject drugs. Of the 12.7 million people estimated to have injected drugs globally, around 50 per cent are believed to have contracted this virus. Many of these individuals have no access to testing, treatment or counselling services and are suffering alone and without access to suitable medicines.
The situation needs to be reversed and the necessary solutions are closely connected to the international community's work on HIV/AIDS and the worldwide promotion of safe injecting practices. There are, after all, no barriers that can be built against hepatitis C, which can lay dormant creating numerous opportunities for the spread of this silent killer.
If we fail to confront these challenges head on, and unsafe injecting practices continue, the health risks are potentially disastrous. Hepatitis C must, therefore, be integrated into the prevention and treatment services provided to those who inject drugs. Any obstacles to the delivery of these services must be swept aside to enhance treatment, rapid testing and medical follow-up.
The stigma and discrimination levelled against those with drug use disorders must also be eliminated. Those who inject drugs and who suffer from hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS need to be treated in the same way as all other medical patients.
Working together we must also raise understanding and the profile of hepatitis C throughout the world. Young people, in particular, should be made aware of the dangers of hepatitis C and unsafe injecting drug use through youth friendly services and other comprehensive means.
On World Hepatitis Day, I call on everyone to help end the shame and prejudice connected to drug use disorders and to provide the essential services for the prevention and treatment of hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS.
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