Health authorities are blaming unsafe needle sharing amongst prisoners at Lotus Glen Correctional centre for a spike in Hepatitis C in the Far North.
According to the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital Health Service (CHHHS) there has been an increased number of notifications of Hepatitis C identified in the Lotus Glen Correctional Centre in the second half of 2019, carrying through into this year.
A Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service spokesperson said: “Work has been underway to better understand the epidemiology and cause of this outbreak,”
“A multidisciplinary team approach is being taken in collaboration with Queensland Corrective Services in response to the increased incidence of hepatitis C cases, including testing, treatment and education.”
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne virus that causes inflammation of the liver. It is one of the major causes of liver cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. Symptoms can be mild or severe, and symptoms can include fever, tiredness and poor appetite, and more severe symptoms include nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, and yellowing of eyes and skin.
Health authorities in Cairns have recorded 61 newly acquired cases of the blood-borne disease to date in 2020 more than any other Queensland region.
According to the Department of Corrective Services, the average prison sentence for male prisoners in Queensland was about eight months, meaning there was a significant turnover of prisoners.
That, combined with the rise in hepatitis C infections, has raised concern about the disease being transmitted in Queensland’s remote Indigenous communities when prisoners are released.
CEO of Hepatitis QLD Katelin Haynes told the ABC that clean needles should be supplied to prisoners. “People in prison have a right to quality health services, and everyone has a right to health services and we see needles and syringes as a health service.”
“People in prisons have a right to equality of health services and that includes harm reduction measures, health promotion measures and education, as well as more traditional medical approaches like testing and treatment of hepatitis C,” Dr Haynes said.
A spokesperson from Queensland Corrective Service (QCS) said:
“QCS, like all jurisdictions across Australia has a zero-tolerance approach to needles and illicit drugs in our prisons. We are committed to protecting the safety and security of all staff, visitors and prisoners by doing everything we can to stop contraband like needles and drugs entering our correctional centres. Queensland Health is responsible for the provision of health care, including the identification and treatment of communicable diseases, in publicly operated correctional centres such as Lotus Glen,” they said
“Lotus Glen officers work closely with Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) staff and Hepatitis Queensland to educate prisoners about hepatitis C, encouraging them to get screened, and managing their treatment,
“QCS also use a range of protections in place to prevent the introduction of contraband including illicit substances into their prisons.
“Protections include intelligence activities, searches of those entering the prison, and the use of Passive Alert Drug Detection dogs and scanning facilities. Contraband, including needles and illicit drugs, pose a significant risk to prisoners, officers and visitors to centres.”