The AIDS Institute Recognizes World Hepatitis Day - Hepatitis Can Be Eliminated as a Public Health Threat
According to the WHO, between 130 - 150 million people globally have chronic hepatitis C infection, and two billion people worldwide have been infected with hepatitis B virus in their lifetimes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates there are 3.5 million people living with hepatitis C in the United States, yet 65 to 75 percent of them are unware of their infection.
Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and can lead to other serious health issues including liver damage and cirrhosis. Hepatitis C attributed deaths now surpass the total combined number of deaths from 60 other infectious diseases reported to CDC. With the current opioid epidemic, the U.S. is experiencing an unprecedented increase in hepatitis C infections among young adults. New cases of hepatitis C have more than doubled since 2010.
At the World Health Assembly in May, WHO Member States adopted the first ever Elimination Strategy for Viral Hepatitis, with ambitious targets and a goal to eliminate hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030.
Earlier this year, the National Academy of Sciences released its report, Eliminating the Public Health Problem of Hepatitis B and C in the United States, which concludes elimination of hepatitis C is a feasible objective and can be achieved with the right resources, commitment, and strategy.
According to the Academy’s report, elimination of hepatitis C is more difficult since there is no vaccine; therefore, efforts should be focused on reducing both the risk of transmission and opportunities for infection. The expert Committee identified several barriers including an underfunded hepatitis surveillance system, only half of chronically infected people with hepatitis C have been diagnosed, and difficulties in accessing curative medications.
Congress can immediately address some of these barriers by increasing funding for the CDC Division of Viral Hepatitis, which stands at only $34 million. The AIDS Institute and others have asked Congress to increase funding to at least $62.8 million in FY2017. Unfortunately, both the recently passed House and Senate Appropriations Committee bills provide no increases.
The AIDS Institute is disappointed that Congress is not increasing the nation’s investment in hepatitis prevention given the magnitude of the number of infections and the need for increased surveillance, testing, and education. Increasing resources for the CDC to address hepatitis remains one of The AIDS Institute’s highest priorities.
One way to reduce potential transmission, according to the Academy’s report, is to use the new generation of medications to cure those who are already infected. However, the Committee concluded that while these medications are cost effective, many state Medicaid programs and insurance companies are restricting access to them.
As the WHO and the National Academy of Sciences concludes, eliminating hepatitis C as a public health threat is possible, but it will take a commitment by government leaders and adequate resources, including access to medications that cure hepatitis C.
To provide “An Update on Hepatitis C in the United States”, The AIDS Institute is hosting two Congressional briefings on Tuesday, August 2nd in Washington, DC. Panelists include leaders from the CDC, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a doctor specializing in hepatitis treatment and a patient.
In an effort to increase testing for hepatitis C, The AIDS Institute maintains a Coverage Guide for Hepatitis C Screening, which explains how under the Affordable Care Act private insurance, Medicare, and, in many instances, Medicaid, can pay for hepatitis C testing.
The AIDS Institute is a national nonprofit organization that promotes action for social change through public policy, research, advocacy and education.
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