ASSCAT (Associació Catalana de pacients hepàtics) is a not-for-profit association based in Barcelona that provides information and counselling to hepatitis patients and their families, to make them aware of prevention and treatment and to help them establish contact with specialists and take informed decisions about their condition.
As part of its activities, ASSCAT is involved in an awareness raising and educational project about hepatitis among prisoners and prison doctors.
Prison facilities represent a high-risk environment for hepatitis C infection because of a continued high incidence of drug use and high-risk sexual activity. Many inmates are already infected upon their arrival or get infected while in prison.
ASSCAT volunteers cooperate with an established network of prison doctors across Catalonia to educate prisoners about hepatitis C, its impact on the liver, possible follow up on diseases such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, as well as the different ways of contracting hepatitis C, and how infection can be avoided. The project involved the distribution of information materials as well as presentations on the prison premises: ASSCAT organised on average one information session per month and prison doctors took an active part in delivering the presentations to their peers and to prisoners.
In addition to these information sessions, prisoners were also given access to screening and therapy. Catalan prisons have permanent medical staff working on the premises and prisoners are given the option of undergoing screening for hepatitis C as soon as they enter prison.
According to ASSCAT statistics, almost 99% of prisoners have voluntarily opted for a hepatitis C test.
The project allowed ASSCAT to gather information on hepatitis C rates in Catalan prisons and to share best practices among prisons in the region. The established network of prison doctors allowed for continued monitoring of prisoners with hepatitis when transferred from one prison to the other, with a view to ensuring continuity of care. As a result of increased awareness and availability of screening and treatment, prevalence of hepatitis C infections decreased significantly.
The project was privately funded by a pharmaceutical company.
Dr Teresa Casanovas, President ASSCAT