R.I. takes aim at hepatitis C in 5-year plan

PROVIDENCE – The R.I. Department of Health is aiming to eliminate hepatitis C infections in the Ocean State using a newly unveiled five-year plan.

The Rhode Island Hepatitis C Elimination Plan: 2023-2027 was announced May 18, during Hepatitis Awareness Month. The effort is a partnership between RIDOH, the R.I. Department of Corrections, the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Rhode Island Hepatitis Action Coalition.

As part of the plan, health officials are urging all adults and pregnant women in Rhode Island to get tested for hepatitis C.

“We have a bold, five-year plan to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island,” said EOHHS Acting Secretary Ana Novais. “Our collective actions have already made a big impact on this state. By working with our stakeholders, including those with lived experience and policymakers, we have identified all the building blocks needed for this robust public health intervention.”

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The entire plan can be found here.

According to RIDOH, hepatitis C was a “leading infectious disease cause of death” between 2015 and 2019 in Rhode Island. Nationally, the state ranks No. 10 in the number of hepatitis C infections per capita and No. 10 in the prevalence of the disease among non-Hispanic Black people.

Hepatitis C, which is caused by a blood-borne virus, often causes no symptoms but is a leading cause of liver cancer and transplants if left untreated. Those most at risk for infection include people who use and potentially share needles to inject drugs.

“Thousands of people in Rhode Island are living with hepatitis C without knowing it, and hepatitis C cases are on the rise nationally. We strongly recommend that every adult Rhode Islander follow the CDC’s [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] recommendation and get checked for hepatitis,” said Dr. James McDonald, the state’s interim director of health.

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.