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World Hepatitis Day Celebrated on Steps of New York City Hall

May 19, 2010

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Advocacy Groups Call For Greater Awareness to Reduce Viral Hepatitis Health Disparities in New York City

Deputy Mayor Announces Mayor’s Support as World Hepatitis Day Is Marked on Steps of New York City Hall

NEW YORK, NY--May 19, 2010--Diverse voices from the New York City Hepatitis B Coalition and New York City Hepatitis C Task Force met today at City Hall to celebrate World Hepatitis Day and emphasize the need for more awareness of chronic viral hepatitis B and C, diseases that affects nearly a quarter of a million New Yorkers, twice as many as are living with HIV.

They joined groups celebrating this day in cities across the country including Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco.

Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda Gibbs announced the administration’s support for efforts to decrease health disparities associated with chronic viral hepatitis. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has proclaimed May as Viral Hepatitis Awareness Month.

Dr. Henry Pollack of NYU’s Center of Excellence for Eliminating Hepatitis B Disparities (B Free CEED) applauded Mayor Bloomberg for recognizing viral hepatitis as a problem in New York City and taking the first steps towards making the public more aware by signing the proclamation.

“We welcome his administration to work with us to make these diseases better recognized,” said Dr. Pollack. “This is a great opportunity now because of the improvement in medications to treat chronic hepatitis B and C, increased awareness of the problem at all levels of the government, and health care reform. Early access to care will save lives and money in the long-run.”  

NYC is the epicenter of chronic viral hepatitis in the US, yet less than one-third of those who are infected know it. Viral hepatitis can lead to liver cancer and is the primary reason for liver transplants. It is known as a “silent killer” because people can live for decades without symptoms, all the while suffering irreversible liver damage caused by the virus.

While the rate of most cancers in the US is on the decline, liver cancer is one of the fastest-growing causes of cancer-related deaths, and viral hepatitis is the main reason for this.

Health care providers who work with hepatitis and liver cancer patients spoke of the need for greater dialog and education about the disease, which disproportionately affects certain populations in New York City.

“I’ve had to give many people the news that they are infected with hepatitis B. Many are shocked because they feel fine,” said Dr. Su Wang, Director of Hepatitis B Services at Charles B Wang Community Health Center, based in Manhattan Chinatown. “Many are afraid to tell family members and spouses. Having hepatitis B can be isolating, especially if culturally appropriate resources are not available.”

While the rate of hepatitis B infection in the general US population is 1 in every 333 people, among Asian Americans in New York City, 1 in 10 are believed to be living with hepatitis B. Two-thirds of them do not know they have the disease. Most acquired the virus during birth or early childhood.

The comparison is equally stark for hepatitis C. Two of every 100 people are living with this virus nationwide, but more than 1 of every 4 homeless individuals, 2 out of every 5 people who have been in prison, 1 in 3 people living with HIV, and nearly 9 out of every 10 people receiving methadone maintenance therapy have hepatitis C.

“Hepatitis C affects all of us, but it has hit some of us harder than others,” said Dr. Donald Gardenier, Clinical Program Director of the Primary Care Liver Clinic at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. “If we want to hit back, we need more than safe and effective medications. We need to find and treat hepatitis C but we also need to eliminate its causes, like homelessness.”

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) reported in January 2010 that there is a lack of comprehensive care services for viral hepatitis, a lack of public awareness, and low levels of knowledge among physicians, many of whom don’t know what tests to order to screen and monitor for this disease.

Dan Rosario, a native of the Bronx, is a former injection drug user who quit in the 1970s. He didn’t know he had hepatitis C until the early 1990s when his doctor found elevated liver enzymes during a routine physical. Rosario’s personal struggles with finding quality care mirror the findings of the IOM report.

“People don’t know enough about hepatitis to know they should ask for a test,” Rosario said. “And providers are not aware enough to ask about risk factors that you may have from a long time ago.”

“We need to raise awareness so that people get screened and vaccinated, see their doctors, and are not afraid to talk about it,” said Dr. Wang. “As a coalition, we need to work together with government agencies and other decision makers to ensure that services are accessible and culturally relevant for those who need it most.”

More information about these infections and screening locations are available at the NYC DOHMH website, the NYC Hepatitis B Coalition and the NYC Hepatitis C Task Force websites, or by calling 311.


About the NYC Hepatitis B Coalition and NYC Hepatitis C Task Forces
The NYC Hepatitis B Coalition and NYC Hepatitis C Task Forces are comprised of health service providers and advocates from over 200 organizations throughout the five boroughs of NYC. Our mission is to raise awareness, increase knowledge, identify and share existing resources, and facilitate opportunities for coordinated efforts to improve viral hepatitis awareness, prevention and management throughout NYC.

Contact:

Justina Wu
B Free CEED
(212) 263-8198
Justina.Wu@nyumc.org

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