Sofia Bartlett was awarded a Health System Impact Fellowship and led the first published evaluation focusing on eliminating hepatitis C among people who are incarcerated in a correctional centre in Australia. As someone who is passionate about the elimination of viral hepatitis, Sofia is currently completing a postdoctoral fellowship to understand the barriers to care for people with hepatitis C, whilst also serving as the Non-Executive Director of the charity HepCBC.
When I was ten years old, my dad was diagnosed with hepatitis C. I know his diagnosis came as a surprise to him, even though he had previously been in prison and also injected drugs – both situations that increased his risk of infection. Although I was young, the negative effects of hepatitis C were very visible to me and I could see that Dad felt some shame about his diagnosis. After living with the condition for over thirty years, he was treated and the virus was cleared. He told me he had never felt better in his life; in fact he felt so good about his health after clearing hep C, he also quit smoking tobacco.
It was serendipitous that my first job out of university was in a laboratory doing hep C research, as I quickly found something I was very passionate about and where I felt I could make a real difference in the world. I’m a very vocal supporter of the elimination of viral hepatitis, and I see this as an opportunity to improve the inequalities within our healthcare systems. Currently, I am doing a postdoctoral fellowship, where I conduct research using administrative data to better understand the journey of care for people living with hepatitis C. A key reason why people living with hepatitis are not engaged in care is because of the systemic barriers in the healthcare system and the unequal access to healthcare. We can use NOhep to drive action on these issues.
I also work with groups like the Hepatitis C Education and Support Society of British Columbia (Hep CBC) to identify areas that require greater investments from governments in order to achieve NOhep. In addition, I volunteer for prison outreach work with Hep CBC to support people who have been incarcerated. Through this, I became aware of the barriers people in prison face in accessing treatment or care for hepatitis C.
After sharing my family’s hepatitis C story, I realised that there are thousands of families with a very similar experiences to mine, but only a few talk about the condition openly because many fear the stigma, judgement and shame. I really don’t think we can achieve elimination without addressing the shame and stigma surrounding the virus. To me, NOhep creates a platform to give us a chance to talk about some of these things. By sharing our experiences with hepatitis, we can start to eliminate the shame.