GCU researchers tackle infection risks among Scotlands drug users

15 March 2017

Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) researchers have been awarded a new seven-year contract to undertake a significant analysis of people with Hepatitis C and risk behaviours among people who inject drugs in Scotland.

Undertaken in collaboration with Health Protection Scotland, the Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative is extremely important as it provides NHS Boards and the Scottish Government with information about the behaviour of people who inject drugs, their service utilisation and prevalence of blood-borne viruses.

Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood said: “I’m pleased to see Glasgow Caledonian University taking on this important epidemiological research work. The Needle Exchange Survey Initiative has contributed much to the Scottish Government’s world-leading response to Hepatitis C and I am sure it will continue to offer us much evidence and intelligence in the coming years.”

More than 200,000 people in the UK have Hepatitis C, commonly spread through sharing of needles, syringes and other equipment by people who inject drugs.

The Needle Exchange Surveillance Initiative, a biennial survey since 2008, has already contributed important knowledge about an ongoing HIV outbreak in Glasgow, the emerging threat of legal high injecting, and the establishment of the first indicators for the Scottish Government’s Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework. The research also provides internationally unique surveillance on the Scottish Government’s National Naloxone Programme, an overdose prevention initiative endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Led by Professor of Epidemiology and Population Health Sharon Hutchinson with Senior Research Fellows Dr Andrew McAuley and Dr Norah Palmateer, GCU will undertake the research, funded by almost £600,000 from Health Protection Scotland, focusing on the prevention of the Hepatitis C virus among people who inject drugs and providing information to evaluate and target interventions aimed at reducing the spread of infection.

The survey will use individual participants’ dry blood spot samples and questionnaire responses to establish the drugs taken, the prevalence of HIV and Hepatitis among participants, and risk behaviours such as sharing injecting equipment.

GCU was a host partner in the world’s first World Hepatitis Summit in Glasgow during September 2015, which set international targets for reducing infection.

In association with Health Protection Scotland, GCU researchers have also led a broad programme of research on the burden of Hepatitis C and interventions to prevent infection and associated disease, which provided the key evidence for the Scottish Government’s Hepatitis C Action Plans and the recent Sexual Health and Blood Borne Virus Framework.

Professor Hutchinson said: “As a University that is ranked in the top 20 in the UK for health research, GCU prides itself on its multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to addressing societal challenges with strategic national and international partners.”

Professor David Goldberg, Programme Lead for blood borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections at Health Protection Scotland, said: “HPS is delighted that the Glasgow Caledonian University team led by Professor Sharon Hutchinson has secured the funding to undertake this vital work which has enormous translational value for Scotland, the UK and all countries where injecting drug use is a public health issue.”