Hepatitis B and C affect as many as 2.2 million and 5.3 million people, respectively, from all walks of life and across the United States. To be successful, our national response to viral hepatitis requires that all parts of society participate, including faith communities. Recently, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) partnered with the HHS Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships (Partnership Center) to sponsor a webinar on the important roles of faith communities in thenational response to viral hepatitis.
This webinar is part of continued efforts to increase awareness of viral hepatitis, promote vaccination and testing, and to share effective strategies and tools for community-level outreach, including the Partnership Center’s newly developed Health Ministers Guide to Viral Hepatitis: The Silent Epidemic.
The webinar, moderated by Kimberly Konkel, MSW, Associate Director for Health at the Partnership Center, featured brief presentations from Federal and community partners who highlighted key areas of need and opportunities to address viral hepatitis within faith communities.
Corinna Dan, RN, MPH, Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor at OHAIDP, provided an overview of the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis (Action Plan) goals of increasing diagnosis rates of hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV) viruses, reduction of new HCV infections, and the elimination of perinatal HBV transmission. Ms. Dan also highlighted the troubling data showing that new HCV infections increased 150% between 2010-2013, underscoring the need for comprehensive approaches to identify those at risk for, or living with viral hepatitis.
Michelle Moses-Eisenstein, MPH, Public Health Analyst at OHAIDP, discussed the unique opportunities through which faith leaders can join the efforts to eliminate viral hepatitis and highlighted key resources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Know More Hepatitis campaign and the 5-minute viral hepatitis risk assessment. The dynamic relationships that exist within faith-based communities may promote effective, destigmatized, and supportive conversations that can encourage individuals to get tested.
Cary L. Goodman, Executive Administrator & Program Coordinator at The Balm in Gilead, described his organization’s work to address viral hepatitis health disparities by engaging African-American faith communities. Mr. Goodman detailed several activities conducted in support of addressing viral hepatitis, including an October 2015 Senate briefing on HCV and African-American faith leaders, and a faith-based Town Hall promoting HCV awareness.
Ivonne Fuller Cameron, MPH, NRPP, President & CEO of Hepatitis Foundation International (HFI), discussed the ways in which faith communities can be critical to engaging hard-to-reach populations who are at risk for viral hepatitis. Viral hepatitis infection disproportionately impacts several groups, including: racial/ethnic minorities, homeless persons, persons with substance use disorders, and those living with HIV/AIDS. Many of these groups also experience other issues (e.g., trauma, incarceration, stigma, socio-economic disadvantages) that may pose as additional risk factors for viral hepatitis, as well as barriers to care and improved health outcomes.
Mollie Jackson-Woodson, an HFI Patient Ambassador, shared her personal story of living with chronic HCV infection. Ms. Jackson-Woodson candidly described her journey to improved health, through addressing a substance use disorder, maintaining engagement with clinical specialists, and remaining aware of her health status. She also shared that stigmatization of common risk factors for viral hepatitis (such as intravenous drug use) and poor access to health care must both be addressed in order to effectively improve outcomes for those with viral hepatitis.
While viral hepatitis is associated with significant health consequences such as cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver-related death, we now have more resources and opportunities available than ever before to progress towards eliminating viral hepatitis. The Affordable Care Act has increased access to healthcare coverage for millions of individuals, and preventive hepatitis vaccinations (for hepatitis A and hepatitis B) and screenings for hepatitis B and hepatitis C infection are now covered without cost-sharing. Newly available HCV treatments have the potential to cure nearly all individuals. Ensuring that more individuals are diagnosed and linked into care remains important steps to improving health outcomes for the millions of Americans living with chronic viral hepatitis. Faith leaders are positioned to help lead our national response to viral hepatitis by raising awareness within their communities, connecting people to viral hepatitis resources and services, and helping to reduce the barriers people face in addressing their health needs.
The following webinar resources are available for download:
- Archived webinar
- Webinar slides
- Webinar transcript
Please visit the Partnership Center for more information and resources for faith leaders to support viral hepatitis efforts.
Michelle Moses-Eisenstein, M.P.H. is a Public Health Analyst, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Corinna Dan, R.N., M.P.H. is a Viral Hepatitis Policy Advisor, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This post was originally published on AIDS.gov,