The Stigma Associated With The Hepatitis C Virus ( Hcv )

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Suzanne Fraser’s chapter Beyond the ‘potsherd’ (2011) discusses the ongoing stigma associated with the Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) in relation to injected drug-use. By emphasising the role that social perceptions have on shaping such diseases, she aims to re-conceptualise HCV, thus encouraging new and unprejudiced responses by the public and the Australian healthcare system (Fraser, 2011). This essay will examine the origin of this stigma, the symbolic link between HCV and injecting drug users (IDUs), and the ambiguity of HCV and drug discrimination, in line with influential theories of drugs and drug-use.

The key issue presented in this chapter is the stigma that is directed towards individuals with HCV and the negative connotations of the
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Phillip Robson, author of Forbidden Drugs (1994), outlined the overlap of drug-use with other ‘undesirable’ factors such as teen pregnancy or homelessness, which may contribute to the stereotypes of drug users, and in turn, people with HCV. This is illustrated in a 2005 study by Doab et al., as only 33% of IDUs had advanced their education beyond year 10. However, as Robson notes, “it is important too not to confuse the effects of a drug with the social conditions which surround it” (1994, p. 26), as drug-use and other factors may stem equally from greater problems. Additionally, Robson believes that these judgements are made based on ‘visible’ drug-users, being individuals who are known to the healthcare system or authorities generally because of other problematic factors (1994).

IDUs are among the most stigmatised of drug-users (Capitanio & Herek, 1999). Two concepts put forward by Desmond Manderson (1995) may help to explain this social prejudice. Manderson describes the needle as “the very emblem of illegal drug-taking” (1995, p. 801), which in most people, provokes a sensory reaction of disgust, despite the condition of the needle or its context of use. He refers to this response as an aesthetic aversion to the needle itself and the practices it represents (Manderson, 1995). Beyond this, is the notion of boundary violation, whereby the needle, as an object and symbol, violates the
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