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Infected jails on Sovaldi frontline

Some of the nation’s most dangerous criminals will be among the first to test Sovaldi’s effectiveness in curing hepatitis C and preventing its transmission.

Hepatitis C is rife in the nation’s prisons, with estimates as many as 50 per cent of inmates are infected – including about two-thirds of female prisoners.

Researchers are recruiting inmates at two New South Wales high-security prisons, Goulburn and Lithgow, to assess the drug’s performance.

Prisoners taking part in the trial will be given one pill a day during a 12-week course of the medicine, which manufacturers claim has a cure rate above 90 per cent.

Prison authorities are grappling with the problem of how to curb the spread of hepatitis C among inmates, who are most commonly infected while injecting illicit drugs using shared contaminated needles.

Public health groups have argued the need for needle and syringe exchange programs within prisons to help slow the spread of hepatitis C, a suggestion vehemently opposed by unions representing prison staff, who claim such measures would make prisons more dangerous.

Liberal MP Steve Irons, who is chairing a House of Representatives committee inquiring into the prevalence of hepatitis C in prisons, said it was an important issue because of the threat of infection in the broader community posed by prisoners as they moved in and out of custody.

Advocates hope Sovaldi could provide an alternative path to breaking the cycle of infection in the nation’s jails.

Adrian Rollins