This year, the largest community-organized viral hepatitis testing/treat-now campaign was coordinated in three of America’s largest cities affected by hepatitis disease: San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York. Leaders in each city announced free and low cost hepatitis screenings and unveiled a new public service announcement with CBS HealthWatch to highlight prevention of hepatitis B and C as the greatest causes of liver cancer in the world. The events also drew attention to opportunities for Open Enrollment under the Health Insurance Exchanges of the Affordable Care Act.
In San Francisco, the event occurred at the 9th Annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration. A diverse group joining Fiona Ma, honorary chairperson of Hep B Free, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee included: San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, California State Senator Mark Leno, Rear Admiral Nadine Simons (Regional Health Administrator in Region IX), U.S. Senator Mazie Hirono, SF Hep B Free and SF Hep C Taskforce leaders Caryl Ito and Robin Roth, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable leader Ryan Clary, physician Dr. Stewart Cooper, and Hepatitis B and C patients.
“In today’s world, approximately 400 million people have chronic hepatitis B and about 170 million have chronic hepatitis C—nearly 10% of humankind—but most of them don’t know it. In the U.S. a huge amount of advocacy by very committed people, including on this stage, has resulted in the national testing that we are celebrating today,” said Dr. Stewart Cooper, Chief of the Division of Hepatology and Liver Transplant at Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center.
In New York, events were organized by the New York City Hepatitis C Task Force and Hep B Coalition as well as Hep B Free New York, Chinese American Medical Society, Latino Commission on AIDS and the Harm Reduction Coalition. Speakers included Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, Director of the Office of Minority Health, HHS; Dr. Jaime Torres, Region 2 Director, HHS; Council Members Maria del Carmen Arroyo, Dr. Matthieu Eugene, Peter Koo; New York State Assmblyman Ron Kim; Guillermo Chacon, Dr. Warren Chin, and television host and Hep C patient Carson Kressley.
Los Angeles events were organized by Hep B Free Los Angeles and the Hep C Task Force of Los Angeles County. Speakers included Herb Schultz, HHS Region 9 Director and former California Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Fiona Ma, who also serves as Honorary Chairperson for Hep B Free. Other speakers included: Dr. Robert Kim-Farley, LA County Dept. of Public Health, Director of Communicable Disease Control & Prevention; Mimi Chang & Koy Parada, co-chairs, Hep B Free-Los Angeles; Danny Jenkins & Brian Risley, co-chairs, Hepatitis C Task Force for Los Angeles County; and Dr. Alexander Li, LA County Dept. of Health Services, CEO, Ambulatory Care Network.
The Second Annual National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day continued educating communities across the U.S. about the benefits of viral hepatitis prevention, care and treatment. In the decade to come, more than 150,000 Americans are expected to die from viral-hepatitis associated liver cancer or end-stage liver disease. The recognition of Hepatitis Awareness Month and National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19th are part of the U.S. National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Viral hepatitis is a silent epidemic in the United States, with up to 5.3 million Americans estimated to having either hepatitis B or hepatitis C. It is the leading cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer in the United States. Although it claims the lives of 12,000-15,000 Americans every year, viral hepatitis remains virtually unknown to the general public, at-risk populations, and policymakers. The overwhelming majority of those living with the disease are not aware of their status, placing them at risk for greater complications from the disease and increasing the likelihood of spreading the virus.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the U.S. National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, which hopes to prevent new cases of viral hepatitis and ensure that those already infected are tested and informed about their status, and provided with counseling, care and treatment. In May of 2012, a historic First Annual Hepatitis Testing Day was celebrated in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This included Hepatitis B and C screening events, community outreach, and participation from elected and public health officials such as Dr. John Ward, the CDC’s Director of Viral Hepatitis, CA Assembly Speaker Pro tempore Fiona Ma, and San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee.