Kris Bramwell of The Hepatitis C Trust speaks to Archie Christian, the Trust’s Peer to Peer Educator.
“Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.”
Archie Christian is the Peer Educator at The Hepatitis C Trust. He visits drug treatment centres, both primary and secondary, with his ‘box of tricks’ of floor cards, leaflets and fact sheets to shower the community with key messages. Anywhere there is a need for reliable information and support for people who are at risk from hepatitis C, especially people who inject drugs – for instance, drop-in centres, day programmes and prisons in London – Archie will visit.
The role of a peer educator is to chat to peers and staff in an informal setting in order to better educate people using drug services about the virus. ‘I take them on a journey of my life’, says Archie. Including lots of references to the 80s, 90s and noughties, he has one simple aim: “Hepatitis C is personal, not clinical; real people are affected”. This helps him relate to his audience.
Archie adds: “I always say that if my story doesn’t apply to everyone in the room, it can be related to others. My story simply provides perspective: people can be upset, concerned and worried, but the worse that can happen is that if you are positive, we can move on to treatment – but first you have to get tested.”
Each session lasts an hour and is free. Archie uses his personal story of drug use and hepatitis C to incorporate five key messages:
1. The importance of prevention and not sharing injecting equipment like spoons or water.
2. Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus and is not transmitted by other bodily fluids.
3. The only way to tell is to get a test – don’t just assume you have hepatitis C.
4. If you’ve got hepatitis C you can take control and do something about it.
5. If you are positive, treatment is available for drug users.
“Every session is different, some sessions can get lively; people who attend are dealing with challenging personal circumstances, so they can understandably be quite sensitive.”
The Hepatitis C Trust’s Peer to Peer service was launched in 2010. In that time, peer educators have visited over 470 services, speaking to more than 4,100 peers and 700 staff. The service is aimed primarily at peers. However, a maximum of two staff can attend sessions if this allows them to develop their hepatitis C knowledge and skills, and engage their clients more successfully. A more comprehensive training package is also available for staff if required.
The service is designed to be easily replicated and the Trust is now rolling out its model of peer education to services across the country. Emma Ward, who manages the Peer to Peer service, explains that “we plan to work with other drug services across the UK and teach them how to deliver effective hepatitis C peer to peer interventions. The importance of this development cannot be underestimated because a significant proportion of people are motivated after a peer to peer talk to access testing and treatment.”
According to Public Health England’s (PHE) Hepatitis C in the UK 2014 report, around 214,000 people in the UK have the hepatitis C virus (HCV). In England 160,000 adults live with HCV – that’s 0.4% of the adult population. In the 2013 Unlinked Anonymous Monitoring (UAM) survey, half of the people who inject drugs in England tested positive for the HCV anti-bodies. Modelling from PHE also shows that the rate of hepatitis C amongst people who have injected drugs is higher in both London and the North West compared to the rest of the country.
Archie says: “So many people assume that because they have put themselves at risk once, or numerous times, they automatically have the virus. But this isn’t the case, and neither is drug use a barrier to treatment. For me, a peer educator is someone who helps an individual allay their fears of an issue in their life, and take those first steps towards making a positive change.”
For more information about the Peer to Peer service please contact Archie Christian, Peer Educator, at email@example.com or on 07920 424 714, or Emma Ward, Projects Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 020 7089 6220.
This article was produced and published for the London Drug & Alcohol Network.