The importance of community engagement, empowerment and leadership was the recurring theme of Burnet Institute’s World Hepatitis Day Webinar: Eliminating viral hepatitis and adapting to COVID-19.
The event brought together Burnet researchers and clinicians, health and community workers, senior policymakers and representatives of affected communities to address three key topics:
Outreach models for engaging people living with hepatitis
Integrated Care Models for harm reduction, and
Impact of COVID-19 on viral hepatitis care and services
Burnet Deputy Director, Professor Margaret Hellard AM identified a number of common threads in the presentations, including the problems of stigma and racism.
But top of the list was community engagement and the central role of community leadership in responding to both hepatitis and COVID-19.
“If there’s one thing we could take from COVID it’s understanding the importance of engaging with and working community if we’re to be successful in responding to it,” Professor Hellard said.
“This issue of shared responsibility is vitally important, and there are lessons in this for other diseases.”
Professor Hellard also identified a variation on the classic KISS principle, in this case - Keep It Simple and Sustainable - in terms of funding and support for community workers and organisations.
“The community are the experts of their own lives and it’s vitally important as we respond to hepatitis A, B, C or COVID, that we understand that,” she said.
Co-Manager of the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health, Alison Coelho reaffirmed the importance of a community focus in her dealings with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
“Working in partnership with communities is essential and all the work that we do around this is community-led and self-determined by those communities that are affected,” Ms Coelho said.
“One of the important things we can improve on is communication strategies that are multi-faceted and community-led so these messages are clear in a way that people can interpret them.”
Newly appointed CEO of Hepatitis Australia, Carrie Fowlie reminded participants of the Federal Government’s commitment to eliminate hepatitis in Australia by 2030.
“This is not an aspirational goal, this is for real,” Ms Fowlie said.
“We’ve got targets set out in the 2022 National Strategy that we need to meet, and we can all get behind this.
“This is within our grasp and we we’ve got 9.5 years to reach our goal and I suspect the only way for us to do that is truly through integrated care, through partnerships and through collaboration that centres people living with hepatitis in the middle.”
Hepatitis Day takes place on 28 July each year to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and to influence real change.
Worldwide, 290 million people are living with viral hepatitis unaware of their status and at serious risk of liver disease or cancer.
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