More than 1 in every 9 Hepatitis C (HCV) patients in Canada spend time in a correctional institution every year, giving researchers a unique opportunity to focus HCV prevention and control efforts in this population. This conclusion is part of a study, “Persons in correctional facilities in Canada: A key population for hepatitis C prevention and control,” published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health, that also notes that people in correctional facilities have higher chances of HCV infection due to injection drug use and needle sharing, whether they are in custody or out in the community.
“Incarcerated individuals are more likely to be infected with hepatitis C and more likely to continue the transmission cycle because of their involvement in risky behaviors such as sharing needles,” Dr. Fiona Kouyoumdjian, a post-doctorate research fellow at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health of St. Michael’s Hospital, in Toronto, said in a press release. “Time in custody is a unique opportunity for health-care workers to offer prevention activities to people who may otherwise be difficult to reach.”
Among the article’s strategies to tackle hepatitis C spread among inmates are:
- Introducing needle exchange programs in correctional facilities;
- Improving access to opioid substitution therapy and other drug treatments, which previous research has shown to prevent hepatitis C infection in injection drug users;
- Offering screening for hepatitis C in all correctional facilities;
- Expanding access to hepatitis C treatment in correctional facilities, when feasible and appropriate;
- Linking individuals to community-based programs upon their release.
Dr. Kouyoumdjian said healthcare and public services in correctional facilities should be equal to those in the outside community, with incarcerated individuals having access to the tools they might need to improve or maintain their health. “Any strategy addressing hepatitis C in Canada should include a focus on people who experience incarceration,” she concluded. “Identifying and managing hepatitis C in incarcerated individuals can prevent the progression of the disease in infected individuals, and can have a positive effect in society, by reducing transmission rates and health care costs.”