Sexual Health – No More C
NoMoreC is a sexual health project in Amsterdam that’s committed to raising awareness around hepatitis C. The project is focused on gay men, and even more so on men who have sex without condoms.
NoMoreC wants to educate gay men on strategies to help avoid picking up a hep C (HCV) infection in the first place, and to reduce or entirely wipe out the virus locally in Amsterdam. We speak to the co-founder of NoMoreC, Paul Zantkuijl, about the central message this project wants to highlight, and how that message could be useful for gay men everywhere. Alongside his work with NoMoreC, Paul also works for two HIV/STI organisations in the Netherlands.
Hey Paul, please introduce yourself to our ROMEO audience?
“Hi, I’m Paul Zantkuijl. Since 2002, I’ve been working for two Dutch organizations, Aidsfonds and Soa Aids Nederland, in the field of HIV and other sexually transmittable infections (STI’s). Currently, I’m the policy advisor for a program dedicated to the sexual health of gay and bisexual men. On a personal level, I got diagnosed with HIV in 1996. Ever since (22 years now), I’ve been on antiretroviral therapy (ART) to suppress the virus. Luckily, HIV is not much of an issue to me nowadays, and I can say that I’m in good health. But, given the fact that hep C infections are mostly found among HIV positive men, and that in my sexual network a few guys have been infected, I’ve always been keen on regular testing.”
The Beginning of NoMoreC
How did NoMoreC begin?
“In 2014, I discussed the idea with my colleagues, that we really should develop a plan to tackle hep C within the Dutch gay community. Ironically, just while writing the first drafts of that plan, I got diagnosed with hep C myself. Although I always knew this could happen to me, I felt somewhat defeated. My HIV doctor, a very empathetic man, took away the negative feelings by saying: ‘Paul, we all do our best, but some of us have bad luck.’ To this day, I’m very thankful that my doctor made this empowering comment. I started treatment right away and got cured within 24 weeks. (Nowadays, with new treatment it takes only 6 to 12 weeks). After this experience, I was even more committed to help set up NoMoreC.”
In a nutshell, what is the NoMoreC campaign?
“NoMoreC wants to reduce the chances of getting infected by fighting hepatitis C on multiple fronts simultaneously. A key component is an awareness and education campaign run by health professionals and peer-educators from the Amsterdam gay community, who firmly believe in the importance of this project. It’s about questions like: How is hepatitis C transmitted? Do I run a risk as a gay man? What can I do to reduce the risk? We found out that many men don’t know the answers to these questions.”
Hepatitis from A to C
What are the differences between hepatitis A, B, and C?
“Hepatitis A, B, and C all infect the liver, but there are differences between the three. For example, you can get hepatitis C over and over (once you’ve had A or B, you won’t get it again). When it comes to prevention, there is a vaccination against A and B (the latter being free for gay and bisexual men), but there is no vaccination against hepatitis C. “
What is the central message you want to communicate?
“All of the communication by NoMoreC is centered around the main message: a lot can be done to reduce the risk of hep C transmission. But also, that men have to decide for themselves, if our recommendations work for them, and fit into their sex lives: C WhatYouCanDo! We know what we’re aiming for is quite ambitious, but not unfeasible. We’re at the last mile of hepatitis C and – together with the Amsterdam gay community, we can wipe out this epidemic.”
Getting Down to Zero
What do you hope to achieve with this campaign?
“We want men to know, that even when they don’t (always) use condoms, a lot can be done to limit the risks. Together we can fight this virus by: minimizing the risks, getting tested for hepatitis C every three months, and getting treated as soon as possible after being diagnosed. As long as we all keep communicating openly with each other about the risk reduction strategies we choose to apply, then we should be able to bring the virus back to zero or close to zero. I think this is a realistic approach.
We hope the Amsterdam project will inspire other cities. We gay men love to travel and to have fun in Berlin, Antwerp, Brussels, Paris, Milan, London, Barcelona and Madrid; cities that also see increasing hep C infections among gay men. Getting to zero is only possible, if all these cities adopt a similar approach to NoMoreC.”
What would you advise to people living outside of Amsterdam?
“It doesn’t matter where you live, the tips and advice on NoMoreC are pretty universal. We invite individuals to visit our site because there is lots of useful information there to limit the chance of getting infected. The website is available in English and Dutch, where you can find 13 tips for reducing the risk of transmitting hepatitis C. Hence the slogan: C WhatyouCanDo!”
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