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Health leaders call for elimination of Hep C

National Public Radio

Organizers of New York's first-ever Hepatitis C summit are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature to wipe out Hepatitis C in the state.Public health officials, elected leaders, medical experts and patient advocates released a statement at the Tuesday summit in Albany calling for an official task force to fight the chronic disease that afflicts more than 200,000 people in the state. The statement says New York's medical and research resources provide a solid foundation to enhance prevention, expand screening and provide access to affordable treatment.

Hepatitis includes a variety of diseases that cause liver inflammation, most commonly A, B, C and E. When chronic, it can cause liver failure and death.

Hepatitis C is spread through contact with contaminated blood. The ongoing heroin and opioid epidemic has emerged as a new contributor to the spread of the disease.

According to the state Department of Health, the recent FDA approval of a "game-changing new generation of all-oral, highly effective and easy to tolerate Hepatitis C drugs" now makes it possible to eliminate the epidemic. However, they are also very costly and many states have putlimitson which Medicaid patients can receive the drugs.

"More than 90 percent of people treated using these new therapies can be cured of the HCV infection," the Department says. "With these new therapies, the NYS HCV Testing Law and infrastructure within the state for HCV screening, care and treatment, NYS is poised to be the first state to develop an elimination plan."

Over the past year, regional HCV coalitions have been established throughout New York State to strengthen community-level response and establish a foundation for developing a comprehensive plan to eliminate viral hepatitis across the state. The summit is an extension of that work.

Viral hepatitis accounted for nearly 1.5 million deaths in 2013 — equal to or greater than the number of yearly deaths caused by malaria, tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS according to the first study to systematically assess the scope of the disease around the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3 million people in the United States are infected with hepatitis C.