LOTUS Glen Correctional Centre has become the first prison in Australia to be free of hepatitis C.
The Tablelands based jail recently passed the milestone after introducing new medications to treat the infectious blood borne virus, which only became available early last year.
Hepatitis C attacks the liver, causing its inflammation, and can lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease, and liver cancer.
In Australia, the sharing of drug injecting equipment is the most common mode of exposure to the virus.
According to the Department of Health, the estimated prevalence of hepatitis C infection among inmates at Australian correctional centres is between 34-47 per cent, many times higher than in the general community (1 per cent).
Lotus Glen clinical nurse Harris Cabatingan, who specialises in hep C control within the prison, said the new medications appeared to have no side effects upon patients.
“With this new treatment, we have a 99.9 per cent success rate,” he said.
He said hep C infection had been a major issue at the prison, through inmate drug use, and self-application of tattoos.
“It’s mostly the sharing of needles, because there will be a bit of blood in there, and transferring it to someone else straight away,” he said.
Health experts have recently regarded prisons as providing the most significant opportunities to drive down the prevalence of hepatitis C within the wider community, with jails often seen as incubators of the disease.
Mr Cabatingan said if other correctional centres could replicate the success of Lotus Glen’s hepatitis C program, Australia would be well on the way to becoming hep C-free.
“We should be treating people for hep C in prisons, rather than sending them to hospitals and getting them treated there,” he said.
“Because we get a doctor who comes in here, it’s quicker for them, and we can get to the patients faster.”