Stigma and Discrimination with Hepatitis C

If we spend enough time around the community of people affected by hep, C you hear some stories about their experiences. Sometimes, it's the daughter who is concerned about your contact with a grandchild or just having you around at all, because of your hep C diagnosis. I have heard these stories, and they are sad and difficult to listen to, but imagine what if feels like to the person experiencing that kind of thing... it is not easy at all.

It is experiences like this that can cause a person to not disclose their hep C to anyone. Is this stigma or discrimination? Stigma is what leads to discrimination, but it can work the other direction as well.

The truth about hep C discrimination

In general; we associate discrimination with race or ethnicity, sex or gender, and so on. But, that is not the only way that discrimination manifests. All kinds of groups of people are discriminated against, and the against part is where I see it as an issue in the hep C context.

It is not worthwhile to assign how destructive one group’s experience is over another, and I am not comparing hep C to the struggles of any other. To say that the hep C experience is more valid or worse is simple arrogance, and that is but another place where stigma grows. The reality is that I hear a lot of tragic stories about how people are treated by others because of hep C - ways one should never treat a person in such a disrespectful way.

The many sources of hep C stigma

The stigma we see in the hep C community is most commonly coming from healthcare providers, and at times, we see examples of full-on discrimination. People are denied access to treatment or given incorrect information. The worst examples are with people who may be a past or current drug user. That is, in my opinion, discrimination, plain and simple. I know we were not all exposed to hep C by drug use, but that is not the issue; We all deserve care, regardless of transmission route. No person, because of their status in society, should be deemed lesser.

What can we do to stop the bias?

It is wrong to assume things and judge people that are identified by their illness or social and economic standing. To say things that are not helpful or are hurtful is unacceptable, but when it turns into a practice, it is nothing less than discrimination. Medical professionals do not get a pass on this, nor does anyone else. Like most things, it needs to be addressed with better understanding, education, and support. Not a revolutionary idea at all, that understanding does help to reduce the practice of stigma and discrimination. When these things become institutionalized and systemic, we have an even bigger challenge to overcome, and why we need to make change happen, not wait for someone else to do it.

If you experience what looks like discrimination; challenge it, as long as you feel safe. It is not something any of us should have to face. If you need support or any help, seek it out; There are advocates who can help.

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