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Alan Franciscus
HCV Advocate

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NVHR Welcomes Dr. Koh's Remarks at AASLD, but Warns that Viral Hepatitis Battle Demands Decisive National Leadership

BOSTON, Nov. 1, 2010 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In a keynote address delivered yesterday afternoon on chronic viral hepatitis, one of the Administration's top health officials provided an outline of the forthcoming HHS "federal action plan" on viral hepatitis and pledged renewed federal leadership to translate this plan into reality.   Dr. Howard Koh, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, made the remarks before thousands of liver health experts at the American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD) 61st annual meeting in Boston.

"NVHR is encouraged that Dr. Koh recognizes that the viral hepatitis battle can only be won with strong and decisive national leadership," said Ms. Lorren Sandt, NVHR Chair and Executive Director of Caring Ambassadors Program, based in Portland, Oregon.  "Given all that is at stake, we are eager to review the forthcoming HHS national strategy as soon as possible.  Dr. Koh's remarks yesterday were most welcome and stand in stark contrast to this Administration's otherwise lackluster response to this urgent public-health crisis.  Chronic viral hepatitis is a winnable public-health battle and it's high time the Administration responded accordingly."

More than 5 million Americans are afflicted with chronic viral hepatitis B or C and an estimated 500 million individuals are infected worldwide.  Most Americans afflicted with chronic viral hepatitis are unaware they are infected.  Without targeted screening and testing programs for those most at risk, most individuals only become aware of their condition after their infection progresses to liver failure, cirrhosis, or liver cancer.  Viral hepatitis is the overwhelming cause of liver cancer, which kills nearly 20,000 Americans annually.

In his remarks, Dr. Koh outlined six key areas that will provide the foundation of the new HHS national strategy. These areas include educating providers; strengthening surveillance; better care, screening, and treatment; encouraging appropriate vaccinations to reduce the incidence of hepatitis B; reducing drug use; and protecting health workers from infections. NVHR continues to have concerns that the Administration's funding levels for state-based viral hepatitis screening and treatment programs are wholly inadequate.  In fact, federal funding for 2011 is actually less than it was a decade ago. Meanwhile, this crisis has only worsened.

Ms. Sandt added, "There is a strong expert consensus about what needs to be done to address the chronic viral hepatitis crisis.  Thus far, we have lacked the political will.  Policymakers face a stark choice:  we can either invest the resources now to pay for successful viral hepatitis intervention and treatment or we can pay for failure over the next two decades with billions of dollars in avoidable medical costs and thousands of unnecessary liver transplants and deaths."

NVHR is a coalition of more than 170 public, private, and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity, and mortality from chronic viral hepatitis that afflicts more than 5 million Americans. www.nvhr.org

SOURCE National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable

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