Many Swedes were infected with hepatitis C prior to 1992 as a result of blood transfusions carried out before a reliable blood test had been developed. Many of those infected still do not know that they are carrying the virus.
The National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) took 15 years to develop a national strategy on the issue as it felt a broad national campaign might create unnecessary panic.
The welfare board recommends instead that individuals be traced on a case by case basis. The welfare board’s limited recommendations are insufficient and impractical, many argue, and local health authorities have instead started their own initiatives.
“We have examined the possibilities to follow the recomendations issued by the National Board of Health and Welfare. But to go through an enormous number of paper medical journals over such a long period of time is not possible neither practically nor at a reasonable expense,” said Henrik Almkvist, a senior doctor with Stockholm health authority, to Dagens Nyheter.
Local health authorities have instead launched their own local information campaigns in order to encourage those at risk to come in for a check.
The county of Västra Götaland in the west of Sweden has come furthest in its work and managed to discover 49 cases from the 7,000 people tested.
The welfare board however welcomes the approach taken by local health authorities despite the criticism and disregard shown to its recommendations.
“As long as they find those infected with the virus it is of minor importance how they go about it,” said Anders Tegnell of the welfare board to Dagens Nyheter.
The success of local health authority information campaigns to track down hepatitis C carriers will be the subject of an evaluation in the autumn, Anders Tegnell told Dagens Nyheter.
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infectious disease that is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), affecting the liver. The disease is often without symptoms but can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and if left untreated, liver failure.
An estimated 150-200 million people worldwide are infected with hepatitis C.