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World Hepatitis Day: Hepatitis C Action Alert

 World Hepatitis Day is July 28. This action alert from the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable is an opportunity to make a difference. Note the deadline of July 24, 2014.

Action Alert

Urge Your House Representative to Sign Congressional Hepatitis Caucus Letter
Call Today!

The Congressional Hepatitis Caucus is asking all House Representatives to sign a bipartisan World Hepatitis Day letter to the new Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell urging her to take swift action in the fight against viral hepatitis (see letter below).

Please help make sure we have a long list of signatures by calling your House Representative today and ask him/her to sign this letter. The deadline to sign is end of day Thursday, July 24th, 2014 so please make your call today!

How you can help:

Call your Representative’s Washington, DC office. Ask to speak to the staff person who handles health care issues. Whether you speak to that person live or leave a message, tell him/her : “My name is _________ and I live in (city/state). I would like Representative ______________ to sign an important letter being circulated by the Congressional Hepatitis Caucus that urges Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell to take swift action in the fight against the viral hepatitis epidemic. Please contact Scott Goldstein in Representative Hank Johnson’s office to sign the letter or for more information.”

You can reach your Representative’s office through the Capitol Switchboard, 202-224-3121.

Text of letter from Congressional Hepatitis Caucus:

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell
Secretary of Health and Human Services
Department of Health and Human Services
200 Independence Ave, SW
Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

We are writing to express our support for increased attention to address the hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) epidemics. As we approach the annual observance of World Hepatitis Day (July 28), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has an opportunity to highlight the nation’s efforts and recommit to a goal of eliminating hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) in the U.S. As Secretary of HHS, we urge you to play an active role in this year’s observance of World Hepatitis Day, identify resources to respond to the epidemics and commit to reducing barriers to HBV and HCV testing, linkage to care and treatment.  In addition, we are requesting a meeting with you as well as advocates from the viral hepatitis community to discuss this critical issue.

We have an historic opportunity to drastically reduce and even eliminate new HBV and HCV infections through scaling up prevention, screening, care and treatment strategies with approaches targeted to communities affected and at risk. With effective coordination and advancements in treatment, we can effectively treat HBV and even cure HCV.

More than five million Americans are living with viral hepatitis, the majority of whom do not know their status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) data indicates that at least 15,000 — and as many as 50,000 — deaths can be attributed to HCV annually. Despite longstanding HBV and HCV testing and HBV vaccination recommendations, not enough Americans have benefited from preventive, diagnostic and treatment advances.

While vaccination efforts have dramatically reduced the spread of HBV, only half of all infants born of HBV-positive mothers receive appropriate prevention services, making mother-to-child transmission a preventable, yet persistent concern. CDC estimates that only half of all mothers with chronic HBV are identified and receive case management services, leaving much room for improvement in culturally and linguistically appropriate screening and post-exposure prophylaxis. The response to perinatal HIV prevention has been a tremendous public health success and with similar urgency and dedicated resources, we can eliminate perinatal hepatitis B transmission in the United States.

There have been recent alarming developments in the U.S. HCV epidemic. Since at least 2007, many jurisdictions have reported an increase in new cases of HCV, especially among people under the age of 30.  This trend has been identified in rural, suburban and urban areas in at least 20 states and some jurisdictions have noted that the number of people ages 15 to 29 being diagnosed with HCV infection now exceeds the number of people diagnosed in all other age groups combined. These infections are fueled by an increase in prescription opioid and heroin use by young people. Alarmingly, a recent study estimated that more than 70 percent of young people living with HCV are unaware of their infection, increasing the likelihood of unknowingly transmitting the infection to others. Public health and harm reduction programs have been able to dramatically reduce new HIV infections among people who inject drugs. With similar attention and resources, we can do the same for HCV, while preventing HIV from returning to this population.

These epidemics are particularly alarming given the high rates of chronic infection among disproportionately impacted racial and ethnic populations and present a dramatic public health inequity. For example, HCV is twice as prevalent among African Americans as it is in the general U.S. population. Asian Americans comprise more than half of the known hepatitis B population in the United States and consequently maintain the highest rate of liver cancer among all ethnic groups. Additionally, African American and Latino patients are less likely to be tested for HCV in the presence of a known risk factor, less likely to be referred to treatment for subspecialty care and treatment and less likely to receive antiviral treatment.

It is estimated that the HCV epidemic will increase health care costs by billions of dollars – from $30 billion in 2009 to over $85 billion in 2024 – largely private insurers and public systems of health such as Medicare and Medicaid and account for additional billions lost due to decreased productivity from the millions of workers suffering from chronic HBV and HCV.

We support the viral hepatitis advocacy community recommendation that HHS launch a $30 million Viral Hepatitis Innovation Fund to support prevention, surveillance, strengthening the care continuum (from screening, linkage to care and treatment) and research action across HHS agencies. These funds could be available for HHS agencies to compete for needed and promising strategies to address viral hepatitis. We concur with advocates that this Fund be administered through HHS OHAIDP and that at least 75 percent of funds be directed for extramural activities.

We are increasingly concerned about significant barriers to accessing viral hepatitis testing, linkage to care and treatment services. These barriers range from low awareness among the public and medical providers regarding testing recommendations, to restrictive policies limiting access to treatments. We encourage HHS to identify means within your authority to reduce barriers to hepatitis B and C testing, linkage to care and treatment.

As you begin your tenure as HHS Secretary, we encourage you to address the HBV and HCV epidemics through increased leadership on this issue. We sincerely appreciate your consideration of our requests and look forward to working with you and your staff to address these issues.


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