The prevalence of hepatitis C and hepatitis B in Australian prisons is higher than in in the wider community, but prison settings also present an opportunity for testing, monitoring and treatment.
This is especially true for hepatitis C since the introduction of new, highly effective drugs which has shortened treatment time dramatically.
Up to 40 per cent of prisoners have hepatitis C, compared to only one per cent in the wider community, and three to four per cent of prisoners have hepatitis B, compared to just under one per cent in the wider South Australian community.
South Australia introduced the nation's first Prisoner Blood Borne Virus Prevention Action Plan in July.
The South Australian Action Plan was followed in October 2017 by a statement from Hepatitis Australia calling for proven prevention strategies, effective health monitoring and ready access to treatment across Australia’s prison network, including remand centres and other correctional facilities.
The statement, Responding to Blood-borne Viruses in Australian Prisons, was endorsed by AIVL, napwha and AFAO.
The statement went on to acknowledge that policy responses in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) South Australia offer hope but are yet to be realised in practice, pointing to the stalled implementation of regulated access to clean injecting equipment in the ACT.
Despite widely accepted evidence of the effectiveness of needle and syringe programs in preventing blood-borne virus transmission in prisons, there is not a single such program in any Australian prison.
Any attempt to tackle the spread blood-borne viruses in prisons is severely handicapped without dealing with this elephant in the room.
Despite that, the South Australian Action Plan valiantly outlines a collaborative approach to reduce the impact of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV in South Australian prisons and, accordingly, within the broader community into which people from prison return. This is especially important when you consider that many people first contract BBVs when they are incarcerated.