This month marks the second anniversary of Combating the Silent Epidemic of Viral Hepatitis: Action Plan for the Prevention, Care & Treatment of Viral Hepatitis – and over the past two years, with your support, we have been able to achieve:
- Improved federal coordination and collaboration – The Action Plan has fostered enhanced engagement and unprecedented collaboration across federal government. To pursue the Action Plan’s goals, a working group comprised of representatives from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), including CDC, HRSA, IHS, NIH, SAMHSA and others, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), has met frequently to identify opportunities to share information and collaborate. As one example, my office recently convened a two-day technical consultation, with the support of CDC, NIH and SAMHSA, on the emerging epidemic of hepatitis C infection among young persons who inject drugs. This meeting brought together federal partners, health department officials, researchers, staff of community-based organizations, and other stakeholders to explore the complex factors influencing this epidemic and to identify surveillance, prevention and research activities to address it. We’ll share highlights from that consultation in a post later this month. Members of the interagency working group have also helped to raise the profile of viral hepatitis as a significant health problem within their respective agencies, which has resulted in sharpening their programmatic and policy efforts in this arena. Just recently, we were pleased to welcome the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to the ranks of federal partners collaborating to combat the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis. (See HUD’s recent email to its network, Hepatitis Awareness Month: What Homelessness Assistance Providers Need to Know .
- Enhanced public and provider awareness – The Action Plan partners have worked diligently to increase awareness of viral hepatitis among both the public and health care providers. Their actions have included promoting the observance of Hepatitis Awareness Month, partnering to initiate the annual observance of Hepatitis Testing Day on May 19, and promoting the CDC’s “baby boomer” hepatitis C testing recommendation, as well as developing and disseminating recommendations for both addressing viral hepatitis among people with substance abuse disorders and reducing the risk of occupational transmission of the hepatitis B and hepatitis C viruses.
- Increased outreach to populations at high risk – The Action Plan also tasked us with working to reduce viral hepatitis-related health disparities. The federal partners have strived to enhance education and outreach to heavily impacted communities, educating them and those who serve them about the benefits of viral hepatitis prevention, care, and treatment. This has included developing and sharing blog posts and engaging in other outreach to populations at high risk for viral hepatitis infection or transmission prioritized by the Action Plan such as persons who inject drugs; people living with HIV; gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM); “baby boomers”; African Americans; Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; and pregnant women. SAMHSA also developed, disseminated and delivered trainings for personnel at drug treatment centers about its Treatment Improvement Protocol #53, “Addressing Viral Hepatitis in People with Substance Use Disorders”. Similarly, CDC has worked to raise awareness of the disproportionate burden of hepatitis B in the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. I was pleased to be able to collaborate with CDC to produce a poster (available in English, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese) and a video as part of these efforts. Similarly, a number of the partners in the Action Plan have worked to raise awareness of the CDC’s recommendation for one-time hepatitis C screening for all persons born between 1945 and 1965 (“babyboomers”) by posting and sharing some of the many messaging tools that CDC has developed.
These are just some of the examples of progress made over the past two years. We are currently working with the federal partners to develop a report highlighting progress made during 2012 which we look forward to sharing this summer. (If you haven’t seen it, read the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan Interagency Implementation Progress Report–Year 1 that was issued last October.)
Looking to the Future
Currently, the Action Plan details steps that the partner agencies are undertaking through the end of 2013. I am very pleased to announce that the partner agencies are committed and dedicated to renewing the Action Plan for another three years and are currently working on their vision and priorities for 2014-2016.
Input from our non-federal partners will be important in informing this renewal of the plan. So, we are inviting public comments on how federal efforts should be focused in the new plan to have the greatest impact on addressing and improving viral hepatitis awareness, prevention, testing, care and treatment. We will also invite ideas on how non-federal partners can be engaged in these efforts so that other sectors can join in this important national mobilization to address the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis. To gather this input, the Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy will soon be conducting stakeholder webinars. I encourage you to share your suggestions.
The focus on viral hepatitis at HHS and across the federal government brought about by the Action Plan has truly been remarkable. We have garnered unprecedented momentum and awareness of this critical health issue. With the renewal of the Action Plan, we will harness that momentum and work to increase it as we work together, “a nation committed to combating the silent epidemic of viral hepatitis.”
Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, is the assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This article was originally published at AIDS.gov.