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Take Action During Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month

monique tula By Monique Tula
Director, Capacity Building
AIDS United
Many people have referred to hepatitis C as the silent epidemic because millions of people have been infected, yet many are unaware. In an effort to raise awareness about hepatitis, May has been designated as Hepatitis Awareness Month and May 19th is specifically set aside as National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day. With that in mind, AIDS United encourages people who are at risk, especially people with HIV, to get tested, and for those who are positive to learn more about all the treatment options available to them. AU also urges health care providers and HIV community based organizations to take aggressive action to educate patients and clients about chronic viral hepatitis, including where to get screened and how to access treatment and support. Following in the footsteps of HIV advocates who developed the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and as part of Healthy People 2020, the US Department of Health and  Human Services recently updated its roadmap for improving viral hepatitis surveillance, screening, and treatment protocols. Together, the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care, and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis and the Affordable Care Act, can greatly improve access to high quality, state of the art treatment technologies that were previously untenable for many people living with HCV. The updated plan noted recent developments in treatment research which has led to exciting new options for people living with HCV. The new drugs work better than current treatment strategies: they cure HCV more often, in less time, and have fewer side effects. Some experts call the new drugs “game changers,” and expect that they will greatly increase the number of Americans who seek treatment.


chartAs the chart indicates, there is a long way to go before we will begin to see a significant rise in the number of people living with HCV being treated for this  condition. But before a person can access treatment, they need to know their status. And once they know their status they need to be assured that they can access treatment when they’re ready. The US Preventive Services Taskforce and CDC both recommend “birth-cohort” and risk-based screening for chronic HCV infection. While these recommendations are intended to identify people with HCV and link them to care, it is unknown if a positive screening alone, is enough to motivate a person to seek care. In fact, a recent study suggests that the main barrier to seeking further care following a positive HCV test result is lack of health insurance[1].

But there is good news. The same study indicated that expanding healthcare coverage is likely to increase access to HCV-related care. ACA implementation may provide a mechanism to link previously uninsured people living with HCV to care and treatment. Previously, people with existing health problems were often unable to buy coverage and others were excluded from Medicaid. But because the ACA has barred these practices, enrollees with HCV are now eligible for coverage. In addition to the enhanced Medicaid reimbursement rate for specific evaluation and management services, State Medicaid Health Home programs will also provide care coordination services like case management, referrals to social support services, and use of health information technology to high-need Medicaid beneficiaries with chronic conditions like HCV. As implementation moves forward, it will be important for advocacy groups to ensure state Medicaid officials are aware that viral hepatitis is an eligible condition for the program. This year, we truly have something to celebrate during National Hepatitis Awareness Month given the advances in treatment protocols and meaningful gains in ensuring access to treatment through the ACA. But let’s not stop here. Let’s continue the momentum by educating people about and participating in local Hepatitis Testing Day events. The CDC has a great site that will help you find a local event or start your own. Perhaps most importantly, AIDS United urges you to get screened yourself if you think you may be at risk for viral hepatitis. Finally, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable is a fantastic resource where you can find the latest updates about viral hepatitis and how to get more involved in advocacy efforts. Visit their website, get educated, get screened, and join us in our fight to raise awareness about viral hepatitis! You can help make a difference right now by calling your Members of Congress during the month of May – ideally on May 19, National Hepatitis Testing Day – and asking them to take legislative actions to advance the fight against viral hepatitis. For more details on this Action Alert, click here.

[1] Bridging the Gap between HCV Screening and Access to Care: Insights from National Health and Nutrition HCV Follow-up Study, 2001-2010. Ivo Ditah, MD, MPhil1; Taiwo Ngwa, MD2; Michael Charlton, MD3; and Patrick S. Kamath1. Division of 1Gastroenterology and Hepatology; 2Internal Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN; 3Hepatology and Liver Transplantation, Intermountain Medical Center, Salt Lake City, UT, United States.

Posted By: Monique Tula Director, Capacity Building , AIDS United - Friday, May 16, 2014

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