How volunteers are helping to eliminate hepatitis C

The Hepatitis C Trust supports a network of volunteer peer mentors who work to raise awareness of hepatitis C, encourage people to get tested and support them into treatment. These peer mentors have experienced hepatitis C themselves. This shared experience can help them build a shared identification and understanding with patients. Mentors also provide patients with information, reassurance and practical advice and support. 

Hepatitis C is a strongly stigmatised disease and there is a lot of misinformation and misperception about the virus and how its passed on. This means our volunteers have a vital role to play in using their experience of hepatitis C to help people understand the virus, transmission risks and the importance of getting tested. They also support patients going through treatment, helping maximise the impact of new and effective treatments which can clear the virus in 95% of cases.

Whether delivering workshops, offering one-to-one support or helping staff our confidential helpline, our volunteers are a vital part of the Trust’s work as the largest patient-led hepatitis C organisation in Europe.

Case study: Joe, Peer Mentor

Joe works as part of a team of peer mentors supported by the Trust to support some of the people most at-risk of hepatitis C in his local area. They work to deliver workshops in homeless hostels, drug rehabilitation centres and probation hostels, all places where many people may have been exposed to hepatitis C through sharing needles whilst injecting drugs.

Joe says he’s been able to use his experience to help others, “We share our stories about our personal journeys, our drug use, how we contracted hepatitis C and how we established a journey into treatment and through treatment. Our stories resonate with the people we meet because certain elements will be true of their journey as well.”

Once you have identified a patient, we then provide a bubble around that individual to stop them from falling off the treatment pathway. Providing them with extra support as well, like going for a coffee with them, getting a bite to eat, gives them motivation to complete their treatment.”

“We are not hospital workers, we’re not drug rehabilitation workers, we’re not key workers, we’re not people of authority, we’re just people who have lived through the same journey that they’re going through. We’re people who understand the power of addiction and the stigma that comes with hepatitis C. We’re there as a friendly face so they are not going through it alone, we’re going through it together.”

Joe says helping others has also given him invaluable skills and experience:

“I knew I wanted to use my experiences and turn them into a positive. Volunteering as a peer mentor has given me the motivation to continue in this field. It has also given me a lot of confidence to deal with professionals – doctors, nurses, consultants, key workers, drug rehabilitation workers. I am now able to sit and talk with them about the issues that affect their clients. I feel that my voice is valid. That has given me more self-confidence and it’s massively helped with my self-esteem. Moving forwards, when I start applying for jobs, the experience I can put on my CV is invaluable. I wouldn’t have been able to sit in this position, nine months down the line, without the experience I’ve got volunteering for the Trust.”

This Volunteers' Week The Hepatitis C Trust would like to thank all our volunteer peer mentors for all the fantastic the work they do. Later this year we will be releasing a full report on our peer support work, which will show the vital role they are playing in eliminating hepatitis C.

Our network of volunteers continues to grow as we work towards eliminating hepatitis C within the next decade. If you’ve had experience of hepatitis C and would be interested in supporting others who have the virus you can email: stuart.smith@hepctrust.org.uk, specifying where in the country you are based.