Washington, D.C. (May 19, 2010) – On behalf of more than 5 million Americans who are estimated to be infected with chronic viral hepatitis B or C, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable brought more than 300 advocates to the Upper Senate Park on Capitol Hill Grounds on Wednesday.
The event brought together advocates and lawmakers to urge Congress to fund state-based chronic viral hepatitis screening and prevention programs, to help eradicate the diseases that cause up to 80 percent of primary liver cancers and is more common than HIV/AIDS.
In January this year, the Institute of Medicine released a landmark report blasting the federal government for its failure to respond to the chronic viral hepatitis crisis. While a bipartisan coalition has come together in Congress to address this crisis, the Administration’s meager response in its 2011 budget proposal means that more people will needlessly suffer in the coming year, particularly minority populations.
The NVHR rally is designed to keep the pressure on until Congress and the Administration act on HR 3974, “The Viral Hepatitis & Liver Cancer Control & Prevention Act.”
Key speakers and supporters present included U.S. Rep. Mike Honda (D-CA) and lead sponsor of HR 3974, “The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control and Prevention Act,” along with co-sponsors present that included Rep. Charles Dent (R-PA), Rep. Anh Cao (R-LA), Rep. Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-LA), who is also a Hepatologist.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) was also present as someone who recently completed treatment for hepatitis C.
Other key attendees included Ms. Lorren Sandt, Chair, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, and Mr. Chris Taylor, World Hepatitis Day, North American Representative, & Viral Hepatitis Program Director, National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors.
Staff of the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organization, based in Oakland, Calif., and its partners were also at the Capitol rally to educate lawmakers and the public on the deadly impact of hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
In addition to H.R. 3974, the rally follows other landmark developments in advancing hepatitis as a pressing health issue of national concern to the AAPI community that is disproportionately affected by hepatitis B.
The Institute of Medicine published a January 2010 report that found current strategies against chronic hepatitis B & C are ineffective.
A newly developed Department of Health & Human Services’ Interdepartmental Viral Hepatitis Working Group formed to improve the public health response to hepatitis.
“Many of our partners are working tirelessly to raise awareness and support research and prevention of hepatitis,” said Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, who offered his comments at a DHHS briefing introducing the work group earlier today.
“By partnering to develop and advance our national goals and strategies to promote health, prevent disease, and increase access to quality health care, we can reduce chronic viral hepatitis for all U.S. populations and make our communities safer and healthier for all,” Koh added.
AAPCHO states that of the nearly two million Americans living with chronic hepatitis B infection, more than 50 percent are Asian American and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander Americans. Yet, because hepatitis B (HBV) often presents no symptoms for long periods, an estimated 65 percent of those infected are unaware of their infection and thus don’t seek treatment or have their loved ones vaccinated.
“This is critical milestone in the history of hepatitis in this country,” said Jeff Caballero, AAPCHO executive director. “Never before has our community been more mobilized and engaged on this issue.
“We have a bill in hand and we are not alone in pushing it forward; the events today in Washington DC and in numerous cities around the country is a combined effort of government, community groups, and industry,” he added. “Our success has and will continue to depend on this collective power.”
The year-old B Activated program currently supports organizations from California, Pennsylvania, Seattle, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Maryland, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Washington DC to develop projects aimed at educating AA & NHOPI communities specifically about hepatitis B in new, culturally sensitive ways.
Among numerous other activities, grantees have launched innovative “Talking Circle” programs that bridge cultural gaps between minority groups, harnessed social media tools in prevention education, and trained numerous new advocates to speak with lawmakers.
The Organization of Chinese Americans, a national Asian Pacific American social justice organization with over 80 chapters and affiliates, encourages all community members to get screened, vaccinated and learn more about hepatitis B today, on World Hepatitis Day. Asian Pacific Americans are disproportionately affected by hepatitis B, a life-threatening disease that is often undetected.
“Hepatitis B has long been a major issue for our community. OCA continues to work diligently on educating our members and the local APA community about this disease,” said Ken Lee, OCA National President, “OCA promotes the visibility and awareness of hepatitis B through health fairs, discussions, and working in coalition with APA health organizations.”
Portions of this article included press released from U.S. ASIAN WIRE.