Current estimates suggest that 15% of all prisoners worldwide are chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), and this number is even higher in regions with high rates of injecting drug use. Although harm reduction services such as opioid substitution therapy (OST) and needle and syringe programs (NSPs) are effective in preventing the further spread of HCV and HIV, the extent to which these are available in prisons varies significantly across countries.
The Hep-CORE study surveyed liver patient groups from 25 European countries in 2016 and mid-2017 on national policies related to harm reduction, testing/screening, and treatment for HCV in prison settings. Results from the cross-sectional survey were compared to the data from available reports and the peer-reviewed literature to determine the overall degree to which European countries implement evidence-based HCV recommendations in prison settings.
Patient groups in nine countries (36%) identified prisoners as a high-risk population target for HCV testing/screening. Twenty-one countries (84%) provide HCV treatment in prisons. However, the extent of coverage of these treatment programs varies widely. Two countries (8%) have NSPs officially available in prisons in all parts of the country. Eleven countries (44%) provide OST in prisons in all parts of the country without additional requirements.
Despite the existence of evidence-based recommendations, infectious disease prevention measures such as harm reduction programs are inadequate in European prison settings. Harm reduction, HCV testing/screening, and treatment should be scaled up in prison settings in order to progress towards eliminating HCV as a public health threat.
Paper by: Rob Bielen, Samya R. Stumo, Rachel Halford, Klára Werling, Tatjana Reic, Heino Stöver, Geert Robaeys and Jeffrey V. Lazarus