In the United States, we have an amazing opportunity to eliminate viral hepatitis -- a group of infectious diseases that cause short and long-term liver disease and burdensome threat to the public’s health, with more than one million deaths worldwide each year. My family has been impacted by viral hepatitis, making my work very personal and drives my passion to work to eliminate this disease. That is why I invite you to join me in commemorating World Hepatitis Day, which takes place annually on July 28, to raise awareness about the impact of viral hepatitis.
Earlier this year, HHS released the Viral Hepatitis National Strategic Plan: A Roadmap to Elimination 2021-2025 (Viral Hepatitis Plan), a framework to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States by 2030, as the nation faces unprecedented hepatitis A outbreaks, progress on preventing hepatitis B has stalled, and hepatitis C rates nearly tripled from 2011 to 2018.
The Viral Hepatitis Plan was developed under the direction of the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) in the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), working with subject matter experts from across the federal government and with input from a wide range of stakeholders, including the public.
The plan provides goal-oriented objectives and strategies for stakeholders at all levels and across both public and private sectors to use in reversing the rates of viral hepatitis, preventing new transmissions, improving care and treatment and ultimately eliminating viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States.
These goals align with those of the World Health Organization, including the goal to integrate viral hepatitis prevention and treatment with other health services, particularly HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as with substance use treatment and harm reduction services. This “syndemic” approach to eliminating viral hepatitis, recognizes the connections between the epidemics of viral hepatitis, HIV and STIs and the opioid/substance use disorder crisis rather than treating diseases as separate from each other. In recognition of these linkages, the Viral Hepatitis Plan complements and works in conjunction with the HIV National Strategic Plan and first-ever STI National Strategic Plan.
Early detection can save lives and eliminating viral hepatitis begins with testing, so those who have viral hepatitis can get treatment and those who are unprotected can get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B. This World Hepatitis Day, individuals, health care providers and stakeholders can all take action to help us achieve that goal:
- All adults and particularly those who are pregnant should ask their health care provider about getting tested for hepatitis B and hepatitis C
- Health care providers should talk to their patients about hepatitis B and hepatitis C testing and hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccination, during outpatient and emergency department visits as well as inpatient stays
- Stakeholders can help spread the word about viral hepatitis testing and treatment by raising awareness and sharing resources
While we may highlight our efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis globally once a year on World Hepatitis Day, we must continue to work together every day to increase vaccination, testing, diagnosis, linkage to care, and treatment so that we can achieve our goal to eliminate viral hepatitis as a public health threat in the United States by 2030.