By Oscar Mairena, Manager, Viral Hepatitis/Policy & Legislative Affairs, NASTAD
Health departments are at the forefront of our nation’s efforts to prevent new infections and create systems of care for people living with chronic viral hepatitis. Health departments, however, are at a critical transition point as implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) continues and more effective treatments for hepatitis C virus (HCV) come to market – a transition that requires federal investment in national and state-specific public health infrastructure in order to meet the changing needs of people living with and at-risk of viral hepatitis.
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Today, on the first day of the biannual National Viral Hepatitis Technical Assistance Meeting, NASTAD is releasing a policy agenda to combat viral hepatitis in the U.S. The policy agenda, Breaking the Silence on an Epidemic: Policy Recommendations to End Viral Hepatitis, provides recommendations for policymakers to better equip state and local health departments to provide the basic, core public health services to combat viral hepatitis; increase surveillance, testing and education efforts nationwide; and effectively reach the goals set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and other Viral Hepatitis Interagency Working Group members, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The Institute of Medicine report, Hepatitis and Liver Cancer: A National Strategy for Prevention and Control of Hepatitis B and C, and the Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, the federal interagency road map to address viral hepatitis, set prevention goals, established program priorities and assigned responsibilities for actions to the HHS and federal operating divisions, including CDC. In turn, CDC provides funds to state and local health departments, the cornerstone implementers of national public health policies, to coordinate statewide efforts via the Viral Hepatitis Prevention Coordinator Program (VHPC).
Among the recommendations in the policy agenda, you will find advocacy information to:
- Continue to support the VHPC program and increase funding
- Increase funding for viral hepatitis screening and confirmatory testing
- Invest in the creation of a national viral hepatitis surveillance system to monitor acute and chronic infections
- Decrease new infections among disproportionately affected racial and ethnic populations, particularly Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, African Americans and Latinos
- Direct resources and funding at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to identify, link and treat persons who inject drugs living with or at-risk of viral hepatitis
- Increase health department capacity-building and support for implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
- Allow states and localities the discretion of using federal funds to support cost-effective and scientifically proven, syringe services programs
- Prepare public health programs for a changing treatment paradigm for hepatitis C
- Update treatment guidelines for hepatitis C
- Increase access to vaccines for children and at-risk adults through the 317 program and the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases (NCIRD)
While the ACA and the changing treatment paradigm provide opportunities to expand access to health insurance coverage, increase availability of successful therapies and improve client-level outcomes, health departments are still the primary coordinators of statewide systems of prevention, care and disease control and any national goals require the core public health functions of health departments to be supported, included and further developed in order to improve and sustain population-level outcomes. By carrying out the policy recommendations listed above, health departments will be better equipped to lead the U.S. in turning the page on these epidemics and linking those living with viral hepatitis to the care and treatment they require.
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We want to hear from you! How are health departments changing your state’s response to the viral hepatitis epidemics? Tell us how by leaving a comment below.