Position Paper: Fund Hepatitis C treatment for prisoners

POSITION: Fund Hepatitis C treatment for all infected prisoners in Nova Scotia

Women’s Wellness Within: An Organization Serving Criminalized Women (WWW) calls for the provincial government to fund Hepatitis C treatment for all infected prisoners in Nova Scotia provincial carceral facilities immediately.

The Canadian Association for the Study of the Liver issued new national guidelines that recommend all Canadians born between 1945 and 1975 be screened for Hep C. The authors explained change in the guidelines was based on the easy availability of effective curative treatment for Hep C.

Hep C is a progressive, life-limiting, infectious, curable disease. Incarcerated individuals experience extraordinarily high rates of Hep C; research has found between 15–30% of prisoners are infected. The rate among women is higher. Women are the fastest growing population in our prisons. Trauma, poverty, homelessness, mental illness, and addiction put women at increased risk of survival crime and at increased risk of disease transmission.

The right to this therapy among those incarcerated is clearly protected by existing law. Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, “the right to life, liberty, and security of the person,” asserts the right to seek health care. Section 12, “protection from cruel and unusual punishment,” protects inmates from state withholding of life-saving therapy. Section 28 of the Nova Scotia Corrections Act requires accommodation of prisoners due to illness, disability, or injury.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the “Nelson Mandela Rules”), stipulate state responsibility for prisoner health, and that incarcerated individuals have the right to the same standards of health care as are available in the community. Not offering Hep C treatment violates provincial, federal, and international law.

It is a moral imperative that prisoners be offered Hep C therapy. It is also sound Public Health practice; as with all infectious disease, reducing disease burden in the population reduces the risk of infection for us all. WWW urges the government to immediately take the necessary steps to make this therapy available to all Nova Scotians, especially those most in need.

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Grace Szucs