Tomorrow, the White House will recognize National Hepatitis Testing Day for the first time. The full event will be livestreamed at obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/LIVE starting at 10:00 a.m. EDT. This action-packed event will feature Director of National Drug Control Policy Michael Botticelli, Acting Assistant Secretary for Health Karen DeSalvo, presentation of HHS awards of recognition to 12 community partners, and two panel discussions highlighting opportunities and challenges for hepatitis and the ongoing opioid crisis, as well as HIV co-infection.
As many as 5.3 million Americans are living with viral hepatitis—an estimated 3.5 million people are living with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) and 850,000 people are living with the hepatitis B virus (HBV). Most are unaware that they are infected because they have few noticeable symptoms. So they have never been tested. People who are infected and unaware can develop serious health consequences and transmit the virus to others. If left untreated, HBV and HCV can cause liver cancer and liver failure. Viral hepatitis is a leading cause of liver cancer. A recent report from CDC, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society concluded that the rate of new cases of liver cancer is rapidly increasing in the United States and the death rate from liver cancer is increasing faster than all other cancers.
Hepatitis testing is the key to reducing this avoidable toll. Hepatitis Testing Day provides us with an opportunity to raise greater awareness about the prevalence of viral hepatitis and the importance of getting screened so that those living with the viruses can get appropriate treatment to reduce the risk of liver disease and liver cancer and to avoid transmitting the infections to others. This awareness is particularly important among the populations that bear the heaviest burdens of these diseases and the healthcare providers that care for them.
But these are not the only populations affected by viral hepatitis in the United States:
The White House observance of Hepatitis Testing Day is co-sponsored by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). We collaborated with the HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) to organize the event. The theme of the observance is “Responding to Viral Hepatitis in the United States.” The event will feature presentations from a number of the Federal government leaders in the response to viral hepatitis. Partners from state and community groups will also share their perspectives on key issues facing our country as we work to increase awareness, screen more individuals, and improve outcomes for those living with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.
Please join us to learn more about the importance of viral hepatitis testing and to celebrate the efforts being made across the country to address viral hepatitis.
Amy Lansky, PhD, MPH is Acting Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy.