The hepatitis C virus (HCV) remains a threat to public health worldwide, claiming the lives of almost 400,000 people each year. While there is currently no vaccine for hepatitis C, successful treatment outcomes are nevertheless possible. As the virus is mainly transmitted through blood, it is at its most dangerous when the actual infection goes undetected. If left untreated, hepatitis C can cause serious liver damage, and a lack of protection increases the risk of the disease being passed on. But, in Poland, even when the infection is detected, carriers of the virus still find themselves facing a number of challenges: treatment is expensive and therefore not widely accessible. This makes prevention all the more important. However, thus far, the lack of accurate data about the number of people who have contracted the disease as well as the disease vectors has hindered the development of a targeted prevention strategy. Switzerland’s contribution to the enlarged EU has now helped changed that.
Tens of thousands tested
As part of its enlargement contribution, Switzerland joined forces with the Polish National Institute for Public Health to launch a project for the prevention of hepatitis C. A geographically representative sample of almost 25,000 individuals was subsequently tested for the virus, yielding the most comprehensive amount of data ever collected on the spread of hepatitis C in Poland. This information allowed risk groups and transmission routes to be identified and appropriate measures taken. In this way, hepatitis C prevention has now become an integral part of the curriculum for healthcare workers. Non-medical professionals who work in businesses where there is a risk of infection – including tattoo artists and beauticians – have also been provided with specific training.
Prevention thanks to YouTube
The project was accompanied by a national awareness-raising campaign. Local YouTubers, groups of medical experts and an appealing campaign website informed the general public about hepatitis C and the prevention options. This innovative and broad-based campaign reached some 10 million Poles and even won a “Success of the Year” prize.
Now that the project has been completed, the next task is to turn the findings and experiences into concrete recommendations, which should then find their way directly into Poland’s health strategies.