Considerations for educators working with young people
Hepatitis C epidemiology for young people
The median age of initiation into injecting drug use is 18 years in Australia. Young people are at high risk of hepatitis C infection because hepatitis C infection rates have been shown to be highest among people under 20 years of age, young women, cocaine injectors and those who had been injecting drugs for less than a year. Prevention strategies and the provision of hepatitis C information and training should be implemented early, preferably before young people start participating in risk practices, therefore to an audience under the age of 18 years. It is far more effective to provide young people with information that encourages the adoption of safe practices and prevention of hepatitis C transmission, than helping people manage hepatitis C infection later in life.
Young people who do not inject drugs also need to be provided with and have access to information and education about hepatitis C, so they can learn about the behaviours which place them at risk of infection and methods of preventing the risk. Including information about safe tattooing and body piercing and blood awareness.
Considerations for working with young people
Education about hepatitis C
There is a great deal of confusion around hepatitis viruses among young people. While, young people have a reasonable understanding of HIV, their knowledge of hepatitis A, B and C is extremely poor. There are limited teaching resources available to assist teachers in developing hepatitis C education programs and because the primary mode of hepatitis C transmission is blood contact arising from unsafe drug injecting practices, hepatitis C is not routinely included in the curriculum.
Hepatitis C education relates to a number of content strands and key ideas within the health education curriculum. For example, hepatitis C could be a useful topic to encourage exploration of the themes such as values and attitudes, personal skills, personal choices and decision making, risks and harm minimisation are all associated with hepatitis C.
Education about hepatitis C will inevitable involve discussion about injecting drug use as a risk factor for transmission. The teenage years are an ideal opportunity for early education and intervention around hepatitis C, particularly for young people 'at risk' of drug use, homelessness or exposure to the justice system. To the contrary, many young people will not identify with the culture of drug use or injecting and may feel alienated by education that focuses on this mode of transmission.
Therefore, another approach to educating young people about hepatitis C is to develop education programs that focus on blood awareness in contrast to identifying specific behaviours or activities. Focusing discussions about blood awareness on tattooing and body piercing, which are both symbols of youth culture (refer to Hepatitis C + Body art resource - link to reference), may increase young people’s interest in the topic. Blood awareness education can be taught in a variety of curriculum areas and does not need to be restricted to traditional subjects that usually deal with alcohol and other drug issues.
General information about the liver and causes of liver damage, namely alcohol use, could also help provide context for discussions about liver disease.
Use of web-based technology in hepatitis C education
An important consideration when educating young people about hepatitis C is their preferred learning medium. The popularity of web-based teaching and learning tools reflect changes in the way young people seek information. Hepatitis C educators working with young people need to embrace the use of web-based technology in their teaching strategies.
Partnership approach in educating young people
Hepatitis C educators need to work in partnership with relevant youth organisations and government education departments to provide relevant and appropriate training for young people. The development of resources also needs to be done collaboratively to ensure the information is appropriate for inclusion in the classroom curriculum. Some aspects of hepatitis C education deal with sensitive issues and educators need to demonstrate respect and discretion toward the best method of communicating the information.
Commonwealth of Australia. (2005). National Hepatitis C Strategy 2005-2008. Canberra.
Maher, L., Jalaludin, B., Chant, K.G. et al. Incidence and risk factors for hepatitis C seroconversion in injecting drug users in Australia. Addiction 2006; 101(10): 1499–1508.
Ollis, D. & Mitchell, A. (2001). Talking Sexual Health: a teaching and learning resource for secondary schools. Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University for The Australian National Council on AIDS, Hepatitis and Related Disease (ANCAHRD).
Hepatitis C Council of New South Wales. 'Hepatitis C - Information sheet for Personal Development, Health and Physical Education teachers'. 2006; Sydney.