Needle access lowers district's Hepatitis C rates

PREVENTION: Needle and syringe program administrator Tricia Frost. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0721needles1

PREVENTION: Needle and syringe program administrator Tricia Frost. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0721needles1

HEPATITIS C rates in the Western NSW Local Health District (LHD) are stable due to the increased accessibility of the needle syringe program (NSP), according to population health expert Georgia Simpson.

Ms Simpson,  who is the co-ordinator of blood-born virus prevention programs says HIV statistics are also falling, with three times more people accessing needle syringe programs than in 2007.

Ms Simpson said people who needed to access syringes were being treated with far more openness and respect than they were many years ago, which often marginalised them and made them reluctant to become part of a needle exchange program.

Ms Simpson said Orange was well-equipped with options for people to access syringes 24 hours a day through the machine mounted on the wall at the Kite Street Community Health Centre and services offered inside the centre.

“However, while Orange, Bathurst and Dubbo are well placed with options including face-to-face contact to request a syringe, many other areas in the region have not had the same options in the past,” she said.

Ms Simpson said the LHD undertook a study to determine how people in places like Lightning Ridge, for example, accessed a syringe.

“This was brought about after there was a real emergence of the use of crystal methamphetamine (ice),” she said.

“The idea of the study was to determine equality in access to the services.”

Ms Simpson said the results of the study and strategies used were presented to the Indigenous International Pre-Conference on HIV/AIDS in the lead-up to a conference being held in Melbourne.

Ms Simpson told the conference the LHD had developed different models for people to access syringes in a range of communities.

“One of the main barriers for people in a smaller community is anonymity if someone has to go in and ask for a syringe,”she said.

She said the development of new devices to sit externally on a building, which incorporated features making it impossible for children to access, had been a major step forward in the fight to improve health statistics.

Ms Simpson said the key to more people using the program was the number of options available for people to access syringes.

“I really feel the NSP connected to harm minimisation has been so successful because we have a dedicated group of clinicians who are working hard to ensure people who need to use the service are not marginalised and are treated with openness and respect,” she said.

No referral is necessary to be part of the NSP.

janice.harris@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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