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Barriers to hepatitis C treatment among secondary needle and syringe program clients and opportunities to intervene.

Gunn J, McNally S, Ryan J, Layton C, Bryant M, Walker S, O'Mahony C, Pedrana A

  • Journal The International journal on drug policy

  • Published 28 Jul 2021

  • Volume 96

  • Pagination 103387

  • DOI 10.1016/j.drugpo.2021.103387


At least 160,000 Australians are living with hepatitis C (HCV), many of whom are people who inject drugs and access needle and syringe programs (NSP). Secondary NSPs provide injecting equipment via health services that are not dedicated to the provision of services to people who inject drugs; these sites could be a suitable space to increase engagement of people who inject drugs in HCV treatment. Drawing on data from a pilot study exploring the potential of upscaling linkage to HCV care in secondary NSPs, the aim of this research was to explore barriers and enablers to HCV treatment for clients who use these services.

We interviewed 34 people who inject drugs (who self-reported HCV positivity) from six secondary NSPs in urban and regional Victoria, Australia in 2018. Fifty per cent were male, with ages ranging from 33 to 58. Twenty-two (65%) had never received HCV treatment and none had experience with direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment. Interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically. Field notes from a program evaluation with feedback from secondary NSP staff was also used as a secondary data source.

Five themes encompassing a set of contrasting barriers and enablers to accessing HCV care through secondary NSPs were uncovered. Themes included 'misinformation' vs. 'multiple trusted information sources; 'lack of symptoms and motivation' vs. 'benefits of cure'; 'competing priorities' vs. 'willingness and readiness to be cured'; 'unsupportive relationships with staff' vs. 'supportive relationships with staff'; and 'inaccessibility and stigma in health services' vs. 'enhanced support'. Secondary program evaluation data also highlighted that secondary NSP staff were under-resourced and had limited capacity to implement HCV care linkage and information.

We identified contrasting barriers and opportunities for accessing DAAs among a sample of secondary NSP clients and staff. Interventions that consider individual, provider and health system level factors are needed if secondary NSP services are to become a suitable setting to initiate conversations with clients around HCV treatment and provide linkages to care.