'I’m always going to be with you, so don’t worry': Accounts of changing hepatitis C serostatus among couples who inject drugs

Stream: Living with Hepatitis
Date: Thursday, 31 March 2016
Time: 11.15 am – 1.00 pm


Introduction: Within the field of illicit drug use and hepatitis C (HCV), there has been limited research examining the complex interpersonal and social dynamics characterising the relationships of couples who inject drugs. To contribute to more sophisticated HCV prevention efforts, we investigated how couples who reported experiencing changes in HCV sero-status during the course of their relationship understood and responded to such changes.

Approach: Drawing on a large sample of qualitative interviews with couples who inject drugs, we adopted a methodology that positioned partnerships rather than individuals as the primary unit of analysis. Importantly, this aspect of our work redresses the commonplace tendency to either overlook, or discount as dysfunctional and drug-driven, the partnerships of people who inject drugs.

Findings: While some couples sought greater biomedical understanding as a means of coming to terms with sero-change, others drew on alternative ‘rationalities’ that sat firmly outside conventional biomedical discourse (privileging notions of kindship and blood, for example). Regardless of which explanatory framework they drew on, participants were ultimately concerned with prioritising their partnership by limiting the potential social and relational damage of living with HCV.

Conclusion: The health-related benefits of intimate partnerships are well-recognised in the wider literature. However, little attention has been paid to couples experiencing high levels of social stigma and exclusion, such as those who inject drugs. Understanding how our participants responded to sero-change within the lived context of their intimate partnership will contribute to both our knowledge of living with HCV and our efforts at its prevention.


Jake Rance (Presenter), Centre for Social Research in Health
Jake joined the Centre for Social Research in Health following nearly a decade working in harm reduction services in Sydney’s Kings Cross, including a number of years as the Counselling Unit Manager of the Sydney Medically Supervised Injecting Centre (MSIC). He is part of the Centre's hepatitis C team.

Carla Treloar, Centre for Social Research in Health
Professor Carla Treloar is Deputy Director of the Centre for Social Research in Health.