Hepatitis C: How the Relational Context of Disease Shapes Stigmatization

  • Erin Waters University of British Columbia


Individuals infected with Hepatitis C virus are often stigmatized, a situation shaped through unique socio-political, economic, physical and linguistic factors. Socio-politically the association of Hepatitis C with injection drug use and the pervasive stigma present in not only the general population but within the health care system marginalizes patients. Patients often feel as though they are to blame and treatment will be “rationed”. The economics factors affecting those with Hepatitis C serve to further limit access to treatment. Underscoring these factors is a unique linguistic discourse that draws on the language of biomedicine, obscuring the experiences of individuals affected with this disease. Finally, the physical setting of Hepatitis C treatment can further entrench the stigma, and subsequently health care access. Physical spaces play into the power dynamic, even with well-intentioned treatment strategies such as locating Hepatitis C treatment within opiate substitution clinics. As nurses it is crucial to be aware of and address the full relational context of a disease in order to minimize stigma and enhance equitable treatment. Strategies to help nurses act relationally and advocate for the best interest of clients are presented in this paper.

Author Biography

Erin Waters, University of British Columbia

School of Nursing

4th Year Bachelor of Nursing Student