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U.S. Senator Rick Santorum Hosts HBV Congressional Briefing

Hepatitis B Foundation Participates in U.S. Capitol Briefing
Washington DC , July 25, 2005

Representative Mike Honda (D. Ca.) was the first speaker at a lunchtime briefing, hosted by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, which took place Thursday, July 21, 2005, in the U.S. Capitol.

In the invitation to the briefing, Sen. Santorum stated, “More than 5,000 Americans will die from hepatitis B and hepatitis B-related liver complications such as cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma this year alone. Hepatitis B is not just a problem in the United States – there are 350 million people who are chronically infected with hepatitis B worldwide.”

More than 50 people gathered to hear for the first time, representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and nonprofit health organizations engaged in a dialogue with members of the U.S. Congress to discuss the impact of chronic hepatitis B in America - a chronic liver disease that affects one in 20 Americans.

During the briefing, U.S. House Representative Mike Honda and speakers from the CDC, NIH and Hepatitis B Foundation discussed the need for increased awareness of chronic hepatitis B, and the importance of prioritizing the disease as a major U.S. public health issue. Specifically, the speakers called for:

  • More public education - the need to help chronically infected hepatitis B patients and their physicians identify and manage the disease; the need to raise awareness of the consequences of untreated chronic hepatitis B; and the need to help increase the length and quality of life for those diagnosed with this life-threatening disease.
  • State-by-state tracking of trends, incidences and prevalence of chronic hepatitis B.
  • Increased funding for national agencies such as the CDC and NIH, in order to increase chronic hepatitis B surveillance and research.

Dr. Timothy Block, president and co-founder of the Hepatitis B Foundation (HBF), moderated the briefing. Block is also a professor at Drexel Medical College in Philadelphia. Dr. John Ward, director, division of viral hepatitis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Dr. Jay Hoofnagle, director of the Division of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Dr. Mack Mitchell, director of gastroenterology at Johns Hopkins University, Bayview Medical Center; Ms. Arline Loh, chronic hepatitis B patient, and Ms. Thelma King-Thiel, chairman and CEO, Hepatitis Foundation International, spoke.

The Hepatitis B Foundation estimates that there may be as many as 500,000 to 1 million people over and above the current 1.25 million people the CDC estimates are infected with the disease here in the United States. Dr. Ward agreed that the CDC number of 1.25 million – which has been used for the past 10 years despite the fact that many of the new immigrants to the United States are from areas of the world with very high rates of infection – should be updated. Unfortunately, today less than 40,000 people are receiving treatment for the disease.

Chronic hepatitis B infection can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and liver cancer. More than half a million people worldwide die each year from primary liver cancer, up to 80 percent of which is caused by chronic hepatitis B, a disease that is 100 times more infectious than HIV. Hepatitis B is not just a problem in the United States – among the 350 million people who are chronically infected with hepatitis B worldwide, 75 percent live in Asia. In the United States, as many as one out of 10 Asian Pacific Islander Americans are chronically infected with the virus, while liver cancer rates among males are 13 times higher in Vietnamese Americans, eight times higher in Korean Americans, and six times higher in Chinese Americans.

With an available vaccine, treatments, and a new NIH Action Plan for Liver Disease Research, the HBF urged Congress to adequately fund programs to insure control of hepatitis B. “We need to encourage Americans at risk to get tested for this ‘silent’ disease, and physicians and patients need to take an active approach to managing chronic hepatitis B. We must also promote vaccination and screening efforts as we increase training for healthcare professionals,” stated Block. “This disease has significant impact on U.S. public health systems, as well as global economic relations, since the disease is rampant in Asia, Africa, and many parts of the world.”

The U.S. government took an important step this past spring when they sponsored Resolution 117 designating the week of May 9 th as the first “National Hepatitis B Awareness Week.” Senators Santorum, Diane Feinstein (D.Ca.), and Representatives Mike Honda (Ca.15) and Tim Murphy (Pa.18) have been instrumental in promoting this and other initiatives to improve education about the disease, raise the level of concern, and instill resolve to address the problem.

A public awareness program “AIM for the B” (Awareness, Involvement and Mobilization for Chronic Hepatitis B) took place May 9-16, 2005, to coincide with National Hepatitis B Awareness Week.  The HBF partnered with Bristol-Myers Squibb to host local events and patient forums in four key cities – Philadelphia, New York City, San Francisco, and San Jose - where chronic hepatitis B prevalence is high.

Established in 1991, the Hepatitis B Foundation is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to finding a cure and improving the quality of life for those affected by hepatitis B worldwide through research, education, and patient advocacy. To learn more about the foundation, telephone 215.489.4900 or visit the Web site at www.hepb.org.



Page last modified October 21, 2009

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