8 January 2021
8th January 2021
In our first Meet the Members interview we go back to where it all began. Philip Bruggmann founded INHSU in 2009 with Markus Backmund and Geert Robaeys. A decade on, Philip is still an active member of the INHSU network.
In this article, we delve into some INHSU history. We also get Philip’s take on how the treatment and care of hepatitis C for people who use drugs has evolved in the last 10 years. And importantly, what needs to happen next.
Tell us a bit about your background
I’m based in Zurich, Switzerland and currently work as Head of Internal Medicine at the Arud Centre for Addiction Medicine. I studied medicine in Zurich and then did my residency as an internist at several hospitals across the country. I started working at Arud in 2003, first as an attending, then as a senior physician, and for the last 10 years as the head physician.
You founded INHSU in 2009. Why?
When I started submitting my research results on hepatitis C among people who inject drugs at hepatology congresses 15 years ago, I quickly realised that this patient group was of little interest.
This was despite the fact that people who inject drugs was by far the largest risk population, and the fact that hepatitis C was the main topic at these congresses.
People who use drugs were of little interest 15 years ago, despite the fact that they were by far the largest risk population.
I started to organise small parallel events alongside the big liver congresses in the US and Europe with scientific presentations from many countries around the world on hepatitis c care among people who use drugs. That was 2008.
Then, I realised there were colleagues all around the globe in the same situation as me. I organised the first Symposium on Hepatitis Care in Substance User in 2009 in Zurich, with Markus Backmund from Germany and Geert Robaeys from Belgium. It was a success so we continued with biannual symposia and founded INHSU.
INHSU has grown a lot since then…
I’m deeply impressed to see what grew out of what we started. There are so many incredibly engaged people behind INHSU, which is now the leading international organisation for viral hepatitis and general health concerns among people who use drugs.
What do you think the future holds for INHSU?
In 2021, INHSU will extend its activities beyond hepatitis. I think this is very important, as there are many other chronic conditions which limit the quality of life and life expectancy among people who use drugs.
I am convinced INHSU will achieve similar success in these new fields as it did with hepatitis. In addition, I hope INHSU will become a strong voice on a political level, advocating for decriminalisation and de-stigmatisation of drug use.
In the 10 years since you started INHSU how do you feel the treatment and care for HCV and people who use drugs has changed?
I think the situation has improved, mainly due to the advent of the DAA medication. In comparison to 10 years ago, people who inject drugs are now on the agenda of health authorities, liver specialists, pharma companies and patient organisations when it comes to hepatitis C. However, there are still major gaps in the care continuum, mainly due to discrimination and criminalisation, but also due to still very high prices of the medication and diagnostics.
When it comes to HCV (and other infectious diseases) for people who use drugs – what would you like the future to look like?
It’s simple. People who use drugs should have the same access to health care as other patient groups, without any further discrimination or restriction. In addition, people who use drugs should be involved in all decisions and developments about their future health care. Nothing about them without them.
What are the biggest challenges facing the community right now and how do we overcome them?
From a global perspective, the biggest challenge is the ongoing criminalisation of drug use with all its negative impacts on health care inclusion, political support and discrimination and stigmatisation. The medical community taking care of people who use drugs should raise its voice to support the advocating organisations for an evidence-based drug policy. Medical and health-economical evidence will be a strong political argument.
Why should someone join INHSU? What do you get from the network?
INHSU is an inspiration for my daily work. It provides me with input and new ideas on how I can improve health care at our centre. INHSU brings together a unique scientific network in this field. To profit from the educational activities is another strong argument to join INHSU. And last but not least, INHSU is an exciting community of engaged people from different professions and disciplines with an immense power to move things forward. It is just great to be a part of it.