What steps need taken to end viral hepatitis by 2030? “It all comes down to testing,” said Carl Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute.
Welcome back to Contagion’s new podcast, Contagion Community, where we delve into some of the social factors that create and widen healthcare disparities.
Schmid acknowledged there are many diseases and health concerns plaguing the world right now, but World Hepatitis Day is a chance to pause and recognize “we still have hundreds of millions of people with hepatitis right now, and it’s an infectious disease.”
Schmid himself is living with chronic hepatitis B, and thus, “This issue is personally very important to me.”
The different types of hepatitis disproportionately affect different populations. Schmid notes that in the US, homeless people are often most affected by hepatitis A, while Asian Americans make up the majority of hepatitis B cases. In the US, all people are recommended for hepatitis B vaccination at birth; immigrants who may not have been vaccinated have a higher risk for hepatitis B.
Even though we have a vaccine for hepatitis B, and viral hepatitis treatments are better than ever, the opioid epidemic is significantly increasing hepatitis infection by injection drug use. “We’re seeing more and more younger people, and more and more women who are contracting hepatitis C,” Schmid said.
“Every 30 seconds,” Schmid says, “someone is dying of hepatitis, and the sad thing is people don’t even know about it.”
“Like HIV, there’s so much stigma…a lot of people feel shame, and they don’t talk about it,” Schmid said, pointing out that this stigma leads to many unnecessary deaths.
Schmid noted that the hepatitis testing recommendations have been changed, and now every person between 18 and 79 years of age should be tested, which should reduce the stigma.
“It all comes down to testing,” he emphasized.
Proper surveillance for hepatitis is another area that is sorely lacking. “We don’t even have enough money to do proper surveillance of hepatitis,” Schmid said, “We know surveillance is so important for infectious diseases.”
The HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based policy and advocacy organization for HIV and viral hepatitis issues. They are currently working with Congress to help pass the Biden Administration’s push for more funding.
Schmid said we have a long way to go in the fight against hepatitis: “This is an infectious disease, remarkably, that can be cured,” but, “We need more resources.”
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