'Too many Philadelphians are dying prematurely of liver disease linked to infection with the hepatitis B or C viruses, hepatitis advocacy groups recently told Philadelphia City Council Members as they urged the council to support efforts to improve screening and care for at-risk populations. Representatives of the Hepatitis B Foundation, Hep B United Philadelphia and the Hepatitis C Allies of Philadelphia (HepCAP) were invited to conduct a City Council briefing to educate city leaders about the urgent need to increase access to screening, prevention and health care options that would greatly improve the health of Philadelphians. “We are doing everything we can to increase screening, education and access to life-saving care through the Hep B United Philadelphia coalition,” said Chari Cohen, DrPH, MPH, Director of Public Health for the Hepatitis B Foundation. “At the same time, the Foundation is engaged in drug discovery research that we hope will lead to major developments in treatment for hepatitis B infection within the next few years.” Philadelphia City Councilman-at-large David Oh sponsored the City Council briefing on June 4 to increase awareness among city leaders of the need for support for local hepatitis advocacy programs. An estimated 20,000 Philadelphia residents are believed to be living with chronic hepatitis B, and 45,000 with hepatitis C. More than half of them are not even aware that they are infected, according to research by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. Consequently, very few are diagnosed and able to access the life-saving care and treatment they need. “Unfortunately, hepatitis death rates have surpassed even those of HIV in America,” said Alex Shirreffs, MPH, Co-Chair of HepCAP. “People do not have to be dying - we have the tools and resources to stop it.” The hepatitis B and hepatitis C advocacy groups joined together to urge the Philadelphia City Council to support efforts to ensure that every high-risk person is screened appropriately, and that every infected person is able to access care. “The communities most affected in Philadelphia are those that rely on the city health centers and free clinics throughout the system,” said Cohen. “It is particularly important that this network of clinics screen their high-risk patients for hepatitis B and C.” Councilman Oh and Nina Ahmad, PhD, Chair of the Mayor’s Commission for Asian American Affairs and a member of President Obama’s President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, have committed to planning a City Council hearing to discuss the next steps for improving screening and linkage to care in Philadelphia. In 2014, city council members unanimously approved a resolution recognizing May as Hepatitis Awareness Month in the city of Philadelphia. Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. It is caused by the hepatitis B virus, which attacks the liver. The virus is transmitted through blood and infected bodily fluids. This can occur through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, use of unsterile needles, and from an infected woman to her baby during delivery. The Baruch S. Blumberg Institute, the research arm of the Hepatitis B Foundation, recently recruited a team of nationally renowned scientists to focus exclusively on research to develop a cure for hepatitis B within the next three years. About the Hepatitis B Foundation: Headquartered in Doylestown, Pa., the Hepatitis B Foundation was founded in 1991 and is the only national nonprofit organization solely dedicated to finding a cure for hepatitis B and improving the quality of life for those affected worldwide through research, education and patient advocacy. To learn more, visit www.hepb.org. About Hep B United Philadelphia: Hep B United Philadelphia was established by the Hepatitis B Foundation in 2008 and seeks to increase the visibility of hepatitis B and liver cancer as an urgent health priority by increasing hepatitis B testing and vaccination rates, particularly among at-risk communities, and involving and mobilizing stakeholders and policy decision-makers to improve access to care for both the prevention and treatment of hepatitis B and liver cancer. To learn more, go to www.hepbunitedphiladelphia.org. About HepCAP: HepCAP works to position Philadelphia as a national leader in the fight against hepatitis C. By teaming up with specialists and community members, HepCAP aims to increase awareness of hepatitis C, while improving local prevention, testing and treatment services. For more information, go to www.hepcap.org.
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