Viral hepatitis is a growing public health problem in the United States. This increase is being fueled in part by the widespread epidemic of opioid abuse that is devastating families and communities across the country. These new cases add to the millions of people who are already living with viral hepatitis, many of whom have never injected drugs. There is an urgent need for us to strengthen our response to the threat that viral hepatitis poses to the health of our nation. We are currently in the third and final year of the National Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, and leaders across the Federal government have begun the important work of building a new plan that will establish goals and priorities and guide the nation’s efforts through 2020.
The nation’s first Action Plan was released in 2011, galvanizing action across the U.S. government and among many nonfederal sectors of society. A three-year update to the Action Plan was developed in 2014, building on the original and further strengthening the nation’s response to an often under-appreciated epidemic. Much has been accomplished over the past five years under these plans. During this same period, new opportunities and challenges have emerged that will shape the future of the nation’s response to viral hepatitis.
So we are pleased that the implementation group comprised of leaders representing 19 federal agencies in the Action Plan has decided to sustain our work and develop an updated Action Plan. Last week, that federal viral hepatitis leadership group convened for a full-day strategic planning meeting to discuss updating the vision, goals, strategies, and structure of the 2017-2020 Viral Hepatitis Action Plan, which is planned for release before the end of 2016.
As the federal agencies and offices work together over the coming months to develop this plan, our efforts will be informed by many inputs, including:
- Lessons from our experiences with the first two Action Plans as well as insights from other federal action plans and strategies;
- Recent guidelines from the World Health Organization on developing national action plans for viral hepatitis;
- A report anticipated later this spring from the Institutes of Medicine on the feasibility of setting national HBV and HCV elimination targets in the United States;
- Recent advances in the field, such as new testing technologies, new therapy options, and new recommendations for treatment;
- Emerging challenges including increasing HCV infections among persons who inject drugs and barriers to treatment access.
Community input will also be an important part of our process. We recently held a listening session with one of the largest groups of viral hepatitis advocates assembled in Washington, DC for Hepatitis on the Hill. They shared many thoughtful ideas about what an updated Action Plan should address based on the real life challenges they are experiencing in their communities. Additional activities to gather information on the needs of individuals, organizations, communities, and health systems are planned in the coming months. In addition, we are currently reviewing dozens of examples of innovative and impactful actions undertaken by community stakeholders in recent years in support of the goals of the Action Plan.
During our discussion last week, the federal partners agreed that the updated Action Plan’s goals should be ambitious but achievable through strategic efforts that make the best use of available financial and human resources. Further, we discussed that the plan’s vision, goals, and strategies should be broadly applicable and framed so that our important partners in this work at the state, Tribal and local levels can actively engage in a shared, coordinated national effort. Finally, we discussed the importance of widely disseminating the updated Action Plan and related information so that all stakeholders will have access to our national goals and can see how their work can be aligned with our national Viral Hepatitis Action Plan.
The lives of millions of Americans are affected by hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Working together, we can further strengthen our nation’s response to viral hepatitis, prevent new infections, improve the health of people living with viral hepatitis, mobilize strategic action on issues of critical need, and achieve life-saving and health-enhancing goals for the nation.
Richard Wolitski, Ph.D., is Acting Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Corinna Dan, R.N., M.P.H., is 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.