New Ipswich clinic breaks down hep C barriers

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Ipswich residents may have noticed a liver-shaped mascot parading the city streets recently. Affectionally nicknamed O’Liver, the giant orange organ was promoting the city’s newest hepatitis C treatment clinic at Ipswich Alcohol and Other Drugs Service (AODS).

Ipswich hep C

Ipswich AODS is the only publicly funded drug support service in the area, and a popular care setting for those needing help with drug-seeking behaviours.

The service provides initial stability for patients by linking them in with treatment programs, counselling, and support while they travel along their journey with drug use.

According to clinical nurse, Dora Son, the hep C clinic was an organic progression after reports from West Moreton Health showed a gap between identifying patients at risk of hepatitis C and getting them treated.

“We know people were comfortable talking to us about their health needs so we wanted to see if we could use that momentum and provide a one-stop-shop,” Dora said.

“We’re using an opportunistic model of healthcare. Rather than changing the clients to meet the service, we changed the service model to suit the clients.”

The first walk-in clinic was held on the 22nd of April and run by a group of healthcare professionals providing point-of-care testing, liver scans and prescription services.

“Our first clinic was a bit slow but we’re hoping as the word spreads it will grow,” Dora said.

Dora hopes the monthly walk-in clinics will help address the needs of clients who are underserved because of their drug use and the stigma involved.

“Stigma is one of the biggest barriers. If someone finds out you inject drugs or have hep C you’re considered ‘one of those people’, even if you’re not injecting drugs now,” said Dora.

“Because of past trauma our clients can have difficulty controlling their emotions and behave chaotically. So we help them address their health needs and head towards holistic healthcare.”

Dora explained a highlight of the clinic is point-of-care technology used whereby only a fingerprick of blood is needed to test for the hepatitis C virus.

“If we didn’t have the point-of-care machine it would be hard to get blood from our clients. Due to their injecting practices, they struggle with regular blood tests,” he said.

The service has also teamed up with a local pharmacy to overcome the barrier patients have with getting started on their medication. Chempro Chemist, a five-minute walk from Ipswich AODS, provides free 5-10 day starter packs for clients wanting to start treatment

“The pharmacist is very on board and wants to get people on treatment as soon as possible. With the PBS concession rate, the majority of clients will then pay less than $10 for a month’s supply of treatment.

Dora says as hepatitis C doesn’t often have symptoms it can be hard to get the client’s momentum going.

“People don’t need to be formally engaged with our service to take part. It’s free, confidential and we want to remove as many barriers as possible,” Dora says.

“We want to make the eradication of hep C possible by 2030 so we’re making sure we can provide testing and treatment to anyone who wants it.”

Ipswich Alcohol and Other Drug Service is located at Ipswich Health Plaza, 21 Bell St, Ipswich. Phone 07 3817 2444.

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