WASHINGTON – Representatives from 12 health care organizations, including Dr. Lynn Taylor with The Miriam Hospital, were recognized at a White House ceremony on May 19 for their outstanding commitment to increasing the number of individuals who are aware of their hepatitis B and C status. Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, presented these first-time awards as part of the annual National Hepatitis Testing Day observance.
An estimated 850,000 Americans have hepatitis B and 3.5 million have hepatitis C, according to the HHS statement, and less than half of those with chronic hepatitis B and C are aware of their status. Unaware individuals don’t access life-saving treatments and risk developing serious medical conditions, including cirrhosis and liver cancer, and transmitting the virus to others. Since 2012, deaths associated with hepatitis C outpaced deaths due to all 60 other infectious diseases that are required to be reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2014, the number of hepatitis C-related deaths reached an all-time high of 19,659, according to HHS.
Taylor was recognized for Rhode Island Defeats Hepatitis C, a comprehensive program to identify, treat and eliminate chronic hepatitis C in Rhode Island. It works to enhance proactive hepatitis C care and bring resources to Rhode Island to help combat the epidemic. Rhode Island Defeats Hepatitis C holds multiple hepatitis C-related advocacy and educational events, runs an on-site hepatitis clinic in a nonprofit methadone maintenance program and works to increase the number of physicians available to treat hepatitis C, HHS reported.
“Increasing testing for hepatitis B and C is a critical part of ensuring good health for all Americans,” DeSalvo said in a statement. “With coordinated efforts by diverse partners like those being recognized today, we can reduce deaths and disparities in hepatitis B and C and improve the lives of people living with chronic viral hepatitis.”
These honored nonprofit organizations were selected based on criteria that included their success in reaching out to underserved populations and getting people tested and linked into care.
Richard Wolitski, acting director of the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, said that public and private partnerships are essential to HHS’ hepatitis work. In addition to The Miriam, organizations from California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Oklahoma’s Cherokee Nation, Texas, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming were recognized.