This unique program supports people who use drugs and sex workers who live or work on the streets during the COVID-19 pandemic in Budapest. One of their main goals is to help people get into Hepatitis C treatment. Watch our video and find out how!
There are much more effective pills today to cure Hepatitis C infection than interferon treatment. Direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications can treat your potentially life-threatening HCV infection in a few months, without any serious side effects. The problem is that even though treatment with these new types of drugs is available and covered by the health care system in Hungary, marginalised people such as homeless people, people who use drugs, and sex workers either do not know about it, do not have a connection to the care system, or do not contact it due to previous negative experiences. This is what HepaGo wants to change.
Watch our movie about the program with English subtitles:
The rented van of HepaGo. This new outreach project rolled onto the streets of Budapest in May 2020, with the aim of reaching out to these populations and providing them with various low-threshold services.
They provide free screening for HCV, HIV, and syphilis. Where there is a positive diagnosis, they provide counselling, and start arranging medical care. They visit the doctor together at Szt. László Hospital, and support people throughout the whole treatment procedure.
Since May, they have contacted 200 people on the streets, screened 80 people for HCV, and out of those 30 people who turned out to be HCV positive, 12 are already cured.
“I think this service is really helpful for me. I was diagnosed with Hepatitis C 34 years ago. I wouldn’t have been able to have the treatment without the Hepago” – 68-year-old male methadone patient.
The other important aim of the project is to provide basic harm reduction and hygienic equipment during the COVID-19 epidemic and lockdowns. Many people they meet are homeless and do not have access to basic hygiene, so they give them masks, disinfectant gel, rubber gloves, and wipes. Without these, people living on the streets are not able to go to a store or even get on the tram.
They do not provide needles for injecting drug users, partly out of fear of governmental attacks, and partly because drug use patterns have changed in Hungary in recent years, and many people have switched to smoking new psychoactive substances instead. They provide aluminium foil for smoking, vein care ointments, female hygiene tools, shower cream, and so on.
The project was made possible with the support of the Open Society Foundations and the International Drug Policy Consortium.
The program seeks funding to continue their important work. You can contact them here!
Article and video: István Gábor Takács
Subtitles for the video: Áron Juhász