It is currently estimated that there are 144,000 people living with Hepatitis C in England alone. Though a small proportion of the total, men who have sex with men are one of the risk groups.
What is needed is a nationwide screening programme and greater awareness. Often GPs don’t test for Hep C until the illness is quite advanced. Early diagnosis and treatment will mean that transmission rates will slow down, and eventually peter out, hence the projection that we could eliminate the disease by 2030. There are similarities with HIV here, in that early diagnosis and treatment can bring down a patient’s viral load to undetectable, meaning that it is virtually impossible for them to pass on the virus. But there is one important difference. Where there is still no cure for HIV, there is now a cure for Hep C, so it is doubly important that we get tested. As gay men, we are fortunate in that we are usually offered Hep C screening as a matter of course when attending a Sexual Health Clinic. If you aren’t, then ask for it.
This awareness needs to be extended into the wider populace, where the problem is one of implementation, which, as usual, is taking too long. A few days ago, The Guardian ran a story stating that, “the NHS is to pay for around 500 people with end-stage liver disease caused by hepatitis C to receive a new drug which could cure them, without waiting for guidance from the advisory body, Nice.”