Viral hepatitis advocates have mixed feelings about the Obama Administration and Congress' treatment of a disease which affects 5.3 million Americans. On the one hand, Obama added $1.8 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hepatitis budget, bumping it up to $17 million. On the other, this funding was given directly to AIDS providers to integrate hepatitis C outreach with HIV outreach among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Martha Saly, director of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR), said it is problematic to tie hepatitis C funding to HIV. HIV/AIDS prevention is allocated $515.4 million in the CDC budget.
"The amount of funding for viral hepatitis is so minuscule. Any funding that the president be given to the division of viral hepatitis for supporting the state viral hepatitis coordinators," Saly said,who had hepatits C for 35 years, before responding to treatment ten years ago. "They should be able to decide what the priority is in their states." There is a rational for linking the funding. MSM are increasingly at risk for hepatitis C, and 30 percent of all people with hep C also have HIV.
While not as powerful as the vast network of AIDS advocates, now viral hepatitis advocates (many AIDS advocates among them) are calling on Washington to increase funding for hepatitis B and C to $50 million and rallying on Capitol Hill for National Hepatitis Day on May 19. The funding would go directly to state hepatitis directors and not be tied to AIDS services.
In 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 43,000 Americans were newly infected with hepatitis B and 17,000 with hepatitis C. Hepatitis B has a vaccine, though hepatitis C doesn't. Hepatitis C Is the most common cause of liver cancer, which is one of the most lethal, expensive and fastest rising cancers in America.
The funding for hepatitis is appropriated through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Saly said Frieden hasn't responded to NVHR's request for meetings. However, Assistant Secretary for Health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has convened an inter-agency workgroup so that federal agencies can better address viral hepatitis.
Saly applauded Koh, and said, "I think the federal government needs to recognize the importance of addressing viral hepatitis. There's no political will to make a difference. We need to educate people about why it's important so they can do something about it."
What You Can Do to Help
Call your representative
The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Prevention and Control Act of 2009 was introduced by U.S. Representatives Mike Honda, (D-CA) and Charles Dent (R-PA) with original cosponsors Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA), David Wu (D-OR), Todd Platts (R-PA), Donna M. Christiansen (D-VI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), George Butterfield (D-NC), and Judy Chu (D-CA). There are now 30 cosponsors of this groundbreaking, bipartisan legislation. The goal is to have at least 100 representatives join as cosponsors and show their support for addressing the viral hepatitis epidemic by May 19, World Hepatitis Day!
Call your senators by April 16
There is no Senate companion legislation, but Senators have a powerful role in appropriations. Tell your senators to expand viral hepatitis funding to $50 million. Whether you speak to a health staff person directly or leave a message, tell him or her:
"My name is ______ and I'm a constituent of Senator ______. I am calling to urge the Senator to ask the Appropriations Committee to support increased funding for hepatitis prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hepatitis prevention has been underfunded and defunded throughout the years. It is currently at $19.3 million and desperately needs $50 million. Hepatitis B and C affect over 5 million Americans and is the leading cause of liver cancer, one of the most deadly, expensive, and fastest growing killers of Americans every year, and the leading cause of liver transplants each year, and a leading cause of death in Americans co-infected with hepatitis and HIV. Money for prevention of hepatitis B and C is critical to providing a public health response like we have for other infectious diseases. This includes public education, counseling, testing, and referral into care. This is important to me personally because________"
You can call your Senator toll-free at 1-866-220-0044. Ask the Capital switchboard to connect you to your Senator's office. Ask to speak to the staff person who handles health issues. If you don't know who your Senator is, you can find out online at www.Senate.gov.
Rally on Capitol Hill
Register to attend "This is hepatitis ...", a rally on Capitol Hill on May 19. If you can't attend, you can still support the event financially, or honor loved ones you've lost to hepatitis. For more information go to nvhr.org