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NVHR Applauds New Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Awareness, Prevention of Viral Hepatitis

Friday, October 30, 2009 General News J E 4
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Landmark Legislation to Increase Public Awareness of Disease Impacting Over 5 Million Americans

WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Bipartisan legislation introduced today in the US House of Representatives, "The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control Act," will increase awareness and prevention of a disease that is already afflicting over 5 million Americans – more than half of whom do not know they are infected – and will help set the stage to avoid tens of billions of dollars in unnecessary health care costs in the coming decade, the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable (NVHR) said today.  

The NVHR is a coalition of public, private, and voluntary organizations dedicated to reducing the incidence of infection, morbidity, and mortality from viral hepatitis in the United States through strategic planning, leadership, coordination, advocacy, and research.

"We have a wave of chronic liver disease that will crash like a tsunami on the US healthcare system if we do not address this problem now," said Lorren Sandt, Chair of the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable. "This important legislation will help identify the people who are chronically infected and get them into treatment, which can save millions in future healthcare costs."

The legislation was introduced by Congressman Mike Honda (D-CA) and Congressman Charles Dent (R-PA) and co-sponsored by Representatives William Cassidy (R-LA), Edolphus Towns (D-NY), Anh "Joseph" Cao (R-LA), David Wu (D-OR), Todd Platts (R-PA), Donna M. Christiansen (D-VI), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), George Butterfield (D-NC), and Judy Chu (D-CA).  

The Viral Hepatitis and Liver Cancer Control Act would amend the Public Health Service Act to establish, promote, and support a comprehensive prevention, research, and medical management referral program for chronic hepatitis B and chronic hepatitis C virus infection. The bill would provide an initial $90 million in funding in 2011 – with additional funding thereafter – that will increase the ability of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support state health departments in their prevention, immunization and surveillance efforts.

Congressman Mike Honda, Democrat of California and Chairman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, said, "Chronic Hepatitis B and C are silent killers, poised to strike millions of Americans and it is time for Congress to act in a concerted effort to educate particularly vulnerable communities as well as the general public. For example, due to a number of factors, Asian American & Pacific Islanders have a much higher prevalence rate of hepatitis B and develop liver cancer at a much higher rate than other ethnic groups. However, few in the AAPI community are aware of their risk factors or about how to manage or treat the disease. This bipartisan bill judiciously invests federal money in a balanced, comprehensive approach to viral hepatitis education, prevention, treatment, and management and I look forward to working to pass this legislation."

"The lack of awareness for Hepatitis B and C leads to under diagnosis," said Congressman Mike Cassidy, Republican of Louisiana, who speaks from his unique perspective as a physician who has treated patients with hepatitis B and hepatitis C.  "Those infected risk liver failure, which leads to liver transplant or death.  As a Hepatologist, I have witnessed first hand the consequences hepatitis can inflict on a patient's health, their families and the nation's health care budget."

The American Association for the Study of Liver Disease (AASLD), of which Congressman Cassidy is a member, strongly supports the bill. "This is a vitally important recognition of the tremendous suffering inflicted by viral hepatitis on the health of Americans, and the urgency of the fight to find better treatments for these liver diseases," said AASLD President, Dr. Scott L. Friedman.  AASLD is the leading organization of scientists and healthcare professionals committed to preventing and curing liver disease.  

Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are highly infectious blood-borne viruses that cause liver disease, liver cancer, and premature death. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are the leading causes of primary liver cancer, one of the most deadly cancers, with five-year survival rates of only 10 percent. While the incidence of many cancers is declining, rates of liver cancer are increasing. Chronic hepatitis B is treatable when detected early and properly managed. In about 50 percent of the cases, chronic hepatitis C can be cured.

An estimated 2 billion people worldwide have been infected with the hepatitis B virus, of whom 400 million are infected chronically. Approximately 170 million people worldwide are infected chronically with the hepatitis C virus. An estimated 5.3 million people living in the United States are infected with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C; tragically more than half are unaware of their status.

SOURCE National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable

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