HHS releases strategic plan to address viral hepatitis

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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released its plan to address the public health threat caused by viral hepatitis across the country.

Call the “Viral Hepatitis National Strategic Plan for the United States: A roadmap to elimination 2021-2025”, the plan sets national goals, objectives, and strategies for responding to viral hepatitis epidemics. The plan builds on three prior national viral hepatitis action plans over the last 10 years but is the first to aim to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030.

“The human and economic consequences of viral hepatitis epidemics are steep. Viral hepatitis is a public health threat that puts people who are infected at increased risk for liver disease, cancer, and death, affects the quality of life for millions of Americans, and costs the health care system billions of dollars annually,” said Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health. “The nation is losing ground in the fight against viral hepatitis despite safe and effective hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines, and a hepatitis C cure that works after an eight-week course of medicine.”

According to HHS, between 2014 and 2018, the United States saw the rate of new hepatitis A cases increase by 850 percent, while the rate of acute hepatitis B increased by 11 percent. The rate of acute hepatitis C increased by 71 percent. As of 2016, the agency said, nearly 3.3 million people in the United States were living with chronic viral hepatitis – 862,000 with hepatitis B and 2.4 million with hepatitis C.

Viral hepatitis epidemics disproportionately impact those who use and inject drugs, people with HIV, and homeless people. Additionally, because of significant racial and ethnic disparities and environmental conditions impacting how people live, work, learn and play, viral hepatitis outbreaks also disproportionately impact the Asian, Pacific Islander, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and non-Hispanic Black communities.

The plan focuses on hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. It includes five goals that guide planning efforts – preventing new viral hepatitis infections, improving viral hepatitis-related health outcomes in patients with viral hepatitis, reducing viral hepatitis-related disparities and health inequities, improving viral hepatitis surveillance and data use, and achieving integrated, coordinated effort to address viral hepatitis epidemics.

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