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HIV and Viral Hepatitis Summit Fosters National Dialogue Across Sectors

Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri

Last week in Washington, DC, researchers, clinical and public health providers, advocates, federal leaders and representatives of health departments, professional societies, academia, and the pharmaceutical sector gathered for important discussions at the 2012 National Summit on HIV and Viral Hepatitis Diagnosis, Prevention and Access to Care Exit Disclaimer.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius opened the Summit with remarks that praised the great progress made in addressing HIV/AIDS in recent years and the “long-overdue attention to the epidemic of viral hepatitis.” She also observed that significant work remains ahead in our efforts to address both diseases– with rates of new HIV infections increasing among gay and bisexual men and death rates associated with the complications of hepatitis C also rising. “That’s why President Obama has made our battle against HIV and viral hepatitis a top priority for this Administration,” the Secretary stated.

Praising both the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis, (VHAP) the Secretary observed, “These plans have given us roadmaps for reducing the impact of both diseases. And I’m proud to say that both plans are being turned into action.  I see it every day in the federal government where our efforts have kicked into a higher gear. But what’s even more heartening is to see the states, communities and organizations around the country that are embracing strategies to address HIV and viral hepatitis.”

Secretary Sebelius also discussed how – in addition to dramatically expanding access to health insurance for people with HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis – the Affordable Care Act’s focus on prevention and care coordination is “a big part of what makes the law one of the most important pieces of legislation in the history of our fight against HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis.”

Kathleen Sebelius VH Summit

Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius

Also on the opening day of the summit, Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, discussed how CDC is looking at both epidemics, with the overarching goals of addressing the underlying health inequities in U.S. and fostering collaborations among agencies working to respond to the epidemics. In providing an overview of HIV in the U.S. today, Dr. Fenton observed that the overall stability in the rate new infections – approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. are newly infected each year – hides significant heterogeneity in race/ethnicity,gender, age group, and transmission category. He specifically cited the disproportionate burden of new HIV infections borne by gay and bisexual men in the U.S. calling particular attention to the concentration of new infections among young, Black gay and bisexual men. In his overview of viral hepatitis in the U.S., Dr. Fenton observed that 2 out of 3 people living with chronic hepatitis C were born between 1945 and 1965, and that 81% of all chronic HCV cases are among this population.

Noting that the NHAS has been a “game changer” in response to HIV in the U.S., Dr. Fenton highlighted several of CDC’s strategic actions aligned with the Strategy. These include the agency’s focus on High Impact Prevention, selecting the right combinations of scientifically proven, cost-effective, and scalable interventions targeted to the right populations in the right geographic areas to prevent the greatest number of new HIV infections and promoting health equity as part of the prevention response. In the viral hepatitis arena, Dr. Fenton discussed CDC’s collaboration with agencies across the government to implement the Action Plan and specifically highlighted its leadership to address the high prevalence of hepatitis C among people born between 1945-1965 through its recently issued supplementary HCV testing recommendations. He also described efforts supported with funds from the Affordable Care Act, to expand testing for both HBV and HCV, and scale up education efforts through new social marketing campaigns targeting both at-risk and provider communities.

Finally, the Chief Public Health Officer of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Dr. Sarah Linde-Feucht, shared an overview of how HRSA is working to integrate the NHAS and VHAP into the work of all its bureaus and offices. She highlighted several examples of activities undertaken by HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau and the Bureau of Primary Health Care and observed, “while there is lots to celebrate, there is also lots to be done.”

These three presentations by HHS leaders helped set the foundation for the two days of conversation that followed. My colleague, Ms. Corinna Dan, who facilitated one of the sessions and presented at the summit, will soon be sharing some highlights from the meeting in another post.

The Summit was organized by the Forum for Collaborative HIV Research Exit Disclaimer, a public-private partnership that brings together researchers and advocates, national and international regulatory agencies, pharmaceutical and diagnostic companies, health care providers and private foundations to compare data, debate consequences, and advance life-saving research. The HHS Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy (OHAIDP) and the Division of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (DAIDS) at the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases were both academic co-sponsors of the conference.

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