Today, I was honored to participate in a special White House event to commemorate the first official World Hepatitis Day. This event was one of many held across the United States and around the world for communities to join together and focus attention on the global health threat of viral hepatitis and promote actions to confront it.
Worldwide, one in twelve persons are estimated to be living with viral hepatitis and about one million people around the world die every year because of viral hepatitis. Many people infected with viral hepatitis are unaware of their status, and as a result, may unknowingly transmit the infection to others. Without knowing their status, these patients also face the possibility of developing otherwise preventable debilitating or fatal liver disease. Last year, in recognition of this “silent epidemic,” the World Health Assembly resolved that July 28 should be designated as World Hepatitis Day, providing an opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of viral hepatitis and recognize it as a major global health problem. The theme for this first official World Hepatitis Dayis “This is hepatitis… Know it. Confront it. Hepatitis affects everyone, everywhere.”
In the United States, an estimated 3.5-5.3 million persons are living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C virus. Viral hepatitis impacts Americans of all backgrounds but affects some U.S. populations more than others. Half of all hepatitis B infected persons in the U.S. are Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders; African-Americans are twice as likely to be infected with hepatitis C when compared with the general population. To actively address these disparities and to accelerate our efforts to fight viral hepatitis, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) developed an Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis (PDF 672KB). The plan outlines actions to increase viral hepatitis awareness and knowledge among health care providers and communities, and steps that will improve access to quality prevention, care, and treatment services for viral hepatitis. Improved coordination across HHS, along with the active engagement of other governmental and nongovernmental partners—including informed communities—will be crucial to our success.
Today’s World Hepatitis Day Event was hosted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy with active support from the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health. Dr. Howard K. Koh, the Assistant Secretary for Health, emphasized that marking this day in such a special way provides an opportunity to reaffirm our collective commitment to focus more attention on this pressing public health issue. Dr. Koh was among the dignitaries who provided opening remarks at the event and read a World Hepatitis Day proclamation on behalf of President Obama. I was pleased to then hear from several members of Congress, including Representatives Bill Cassidy, Judy Chu, Michael Honda, Hank Johnson, and Barbara Lee, who have been leaders in raising hepatitis awareness. I moderated a panel that highlighted opportunities across the federal government to implement the HHS Action Plan for Viral Hepatitis. This discussion was followed by a session led by health care providers and patients living with viral hepatitis who shared their individual experiences with fighting viral hepatitis. Mr. Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, provided a closing statement to the audience, which included government leaders, policy makers, community advocates, patients, and health professionals.