NBLCA's Harlem Viral Hepatitis Summit Examines Promising Scientific Advances and Ongoing Minority Health Disparities

Mar 25, 2014, 08:00 ET from National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc.

NEW YORK, March 25, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- At the New York Viral Hepatitis Summit presented by the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc. (NBLCA) on Thursday, March 20 at Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, medical experts, public health officials, and community health advocates discussed the latest medical research, diagnosis and treatment options, and community health implications of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), emphasizing the disproportionate impact of HCV on the black community.

The rates of HCV infection and HCV-related mortality in the United States are twice as high for black people as they are for non-Hispanic whites. African Americans represent 14 percent of the U.S. population but account for 22 percent of the estimated 3.2 million people in the nation who are infected with HCV. Hepatitis C is a leading cause of liver cancer and cirrhosis in the U.S.

Dr. Joan A. Culpepper-Morgan of Harlem Hospital Center provided a detailed overview of the historical trends and recent advances in diagnosis and treatment of Hepatitis C. She discussed the risk factors for infection with HCV, which is a blood-borne virus, and the high prevalence among Baby Boomers—people born between the years 1945 and 1965. Within that group, she said, blacks and Hispanics have the highest rate of infection—as much as 20 to 25 percent among black people—and she noted that Harlem is "a hotbed of HCV."

Unlike Hepatitis A and B, there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C. But according to Dr. Culpepper-Morgan and other summit speakers, new treatments are showing great promise in reducing the viral load and clearing the virus entirely. These new drugs have a much higher response rate than previous therapies, require a shorter treatment period (12 weeks vs. one year), and have fewer harsh side effects.

Despite these advances, there are ongoing barriers to treatment. The infection is often asymptomatic, so people may be infected for many years and not know it until liver disease progresses. Stigma surrounding Hepatitis C infection and a lack of access to care prevent people from being tested, and the high cost of medication can be prohibitive for lower- and middle-income patients, even with insurance coverage.

NBLCA advocated for New York State Hepatitis C testing legislation, signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo last October, which requires medical practitioners to offer the HCV test to all people born between 1945 and 1965. NBLCA is supporting similar legislation now under consideration in several other states.

"To reduce the rate of Hepatitis C infection, we must promote education and awareness; ensure that our policy makers understand the need for legislation that addresses health disparities; and advocate for funding at the city, state, and federal levels that will enable us to provide much-needed health care resources in our communities," said Ms. Fields.

For more information, visit www.nblca.org.

Media Contact:
Teri Wade

SOURCE National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc.