Hep B Blog

Category Archives: United States

#justB Storyteller David’s Advocacy Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

David is living with hepatitis B, and he spoke about empathy and mental health as a panelist at the World Hepatitis Summit (WHS) 2024

Another World Hepatitis Summit (WHS) has come and gone, this time in Lisbon, Portugal. I previously attended the 2022 summit in Geneva and spoke during the Youth Can’t-Wait and Closing Sessions. I would like to give my thanks to the wonderful people at the World Hepatitis Alliance, for allowing me to travel and speak at this year’s summit as well.  

I spoke during a newly created session called Hepatitis and Mental Health. During this session, a video I made in collaboration with the WHA last year, was played before I spoke. It is part of the WHA “I can’t wait” series of videos, which showcase patient advocates and their journeys with patient advocacy and why they can’t wait for a world without hepatitis. I, the dedicated and powerful Shabana Begum of the UK, and the courageous and vocal Shaibu Issa of Tanzania are the first to be featured in these videos.  

I can’t wait… these words evoke dire urgency. During this summit, I felt and heard the urgency from many of the speakers, advocates, and attendees. From the opening session, it was emphasized that the world DOES have the tools and resources but DOES NOT have the required amount of political and social will to eliminate viral hepatitis by 2030. The need for person-centered and culturally appropriate approaches as being critically important was also highlighted.  

These declarations capture the moment the viral hepatitis community is currently in. Time is slipping away by the day and the people who suffer from viral hepatitis, hepatitis B and D included, cannot continue to wait in silence as they have been. Deaths from hepatitis B are still alarmingly high each year. These statistics highlight a problem of stigma and discrimination that presents differently depending on where you are located or who you are talking to. Stigma and discrimination can cause mental health problems and prevent millions of people living with hepatitis from finding their voice, feeling comfortable sharing their story, and being diagnosed. Without solving this multi-faceted problem, the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030 is just an empty platitude. 

Having the privilege and platform to speak about hepatitis and mental health during this summit was very important to me. My struggles with hepatitis B and my mental health struggles are interconnected in so many ways. That is also true for so many other patients who have struggled with poor mental health. Long before I started my patient advocacy journey, I felt voiceless. Long before I ever talked publicly about my mental health struggles, I felt voiceless.  

Empathy is a crucial piece of the puzzle for how we give those who feel voiceless the greatest opportunity to find their voice, regardless of where they are from or the stigmas that surround them. We must be empathetic when creating policies, action plans, and declarations. So many millions of people are left undiagnosed, untreated, and voiceless because of fear of the societal, associative, and personal stigma that they will go through if they seek out a diagnosis or talk about their status openly. There is still so much misinformation surrounding hepatitis and the only feasible way to fight this is by amplifying the voices of those who speak the truth about hepatitis with empathy, cultural sensitivity and appropriate.  

The symptoms of poor mental health exacerbate this feeling of voicelessness. After five years of advocacy, over a decade of therapy, and five years of being on a consistent treatment for my hepatitis B, I still struggle with clinical depression and anxiety. I will live every day with depression and anxiety in varying degrees for the foreseeable future. My mental health started to trend downward late last year. I had to find the strength to start an antidepressant medication and give it an honest try. I can happily say, that today and every day after will mark the longest I’ve been on an antidepressant (almost six months now), and I can report that it is helping me manage my mental health and to continue managing my hepatitis.  

I say all of this to highlight the connection between times in my life where I have actively been taking steps to manage my mental health and my hepatitis B. These periods overlap with each other, and they have one important thing in common. Empathy for myself and others. This is one of the strongest coping tools I have to manage my hepatitis B and my mental health. Patient health outcomes are linked to the state of their mental health and the tools and resources they are given to help manage it.  

After attending this World Hepatitis Summit, I feel a calling to act with more urgency. This isn’t an easy task. For me, it’s one of the most challenging aspects of advocacy. I have such a natural tendency to self-talk in very judgmental and negative terms. I sometimes think I’m a terrible person for not doing more and taking more time to learn how to become a more capable and productive advocate. I ask myself why I’m not having more conversations, learning about others’ perspectives, and potentially teaching someone or setting them on a path of changing their minds about hepatitis and mental health.

The desire to grow more as an advocate and connect more with others is within me, but the key to taking more action is to meet myself where I am currently and to practice self-empathy. When I speak to myself with empathy, kindness, and encouragement, I am much more likely to grow and make a positive change, even though mental health struggles.   

Most people in the world can relate to or know someone who has struggled with their mental health. This commonality between people can be a powerful tool if wielded with empathy instead of fearmongering and focusing on the most rare, violent, and negative aspects of mental health struggles. These stories fill the public, media, social media, and political discourse and create more layers of stigma (public, associative, self, provider). Changing this narrative will be a monumental undertaking but to use one of my favorite quotes, “The best time to start was yesterday. The next best time is today.” 

Minority Health Awareness Month: Why does hepatitis B disproportionately affect some groups more than others? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatitis B is a global public health crisis. While it is heavily underreported across the world, experts estimate that there are approximately 300 million people living with chronic hepatitis B. Anyone can get hepatitis B. The hepatitis B virus does not discriminate. This is why it is crucial for everyone to get tested for hepatitis B at least once in their lifetime and get the hepatitis B vaccine. 

However, some people are at a greater risk for developing chronic hepatitis B than others. This is not necessarily because some people are genetically predisposed to the virus but because of poor awareness and lack of resources to prevent or treat hepatitis B.  It is important to understand that health is influenced by many different factors including genetics, our environment, availability of resources and access to care. To fully understand the reasons behind racial and ethnic disparities in hepatitis B prevalence across the globe, we must understand the social determinants of health associated with hepatitis B testing and care.  

Differences in HBV Genotypes 

Genotypes describe the characteristics of the virus. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) contains many different genotypes, which explains why the virus impacts people in different ways (i.e., how the virus spreads to others, likelihood of developing serious liver disease, etc.). Some genotypes such as genotype A can increase the chances of chronic (long-term) infection. 

Certain HBV genotypes are more common in some regions of the world than others, which may explain why some people are more likely to experience worse health outcomes than others (Sunbul, 2014). 

 Genotype A is commonly found in the African region. Genotypes B and C are found in the Asia Pacific regions. Genotype D is less likely to lead to a chronic infection but can still result in serious liver failure without proper intervention. Genotype D is found mostly in South Asia (Pakistan and India). Source: Sunbul M. (2014). Hepatitis B virus genotypes: global distribution and clinical importance. World journal of gastroenterology, 20(18), 5427–5434. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i18.5427 

Social Determinants of Health 

Public health researchers call the economic, cultural and political factors that shape society “social determinants of health,” which go beyond medical care and insurance coverage. Our health is influenced by our access to education, employment opportunities, local, state and national policies, and our neighborhood and environment. (Greene at al., 2017). 

In the global context of hepatitis B prevention and treatment, some groups are at a better advantage than others. Some countries are more technologically advanced with a strong economy. This makes access to testing, vaccine, clinical trials, and treatment options much easier for some populations (though disparities still exist). Political will and access to economic resources impact what public health issues should be prioritized for in many countries. If a country has a poorly maintained economy and access to resources is limited, it is less likely to develop or sustain critical public health programs to prevent or test for hepatitis B or provide proper care for those living with hepatitis B. In some regions, access to schools and education is restricted, which impacts health literacy and access to economic mobility. Poor awareness due to low health literacy and limited knowledge about hepatitis B is usually because of overall education deficiencies. This makes it difficult for people to understand health education if they lack basic literacy skills (i.e., if they cannot read or write). In other regions, health literacy is not prioritized. Some people have better access to tools and resources that help them understand how to navigate the health care system, get medical insurance and make better decisions about their health (e.g., starting treatment or routinely getting ultrasounds to monitor liver function) (Greene et al., 2017). 

In the U. S., hepatitis B is an important health concern for many Asian and African immigrant populations. This is partially due to low or poor vaccination rates in their country of origin (some countries do not have policies on mandatory vaccination, access to adult vaccination or sufficient access to birth dose). While people should be getting screened for hepatitis B during the immigration process, this does not always occur. Immigrant populations also tend to have lower rates of insurance coverage. Many either lack healthcare insurance or do not have adequate insurance.  

Cultural barriers pose a critical challenge to getting people screened and vaccinated as health education materials on hepatitis B are not always available in other languages, such as Khmer or Mandarin. This makes them more likely to avoid getting care or using preventative services such as hepatitis B screening and vaccination due to fears of high out-of- pocket costs, disruptions in their immigration process and cultural factors. Cultural barriers pose a critical challenge to getting people screened and vaccinated as health education materials on hepatitis B are not always available in their native languages. 

The Hepatitis B Foundation and the Hep B United Coalition work with local, national, and global partners to address barriers around hepatitis B and liver cancer for impacted communities. Local coalitions such as Hep B United Philadelphia work with community-based organizations like African Family Health Organization (AFAHO), Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation (PCDC), and SHAMS Health Clinic to increase uptake of screening and provide education on hepatitis B and liver cancer among Asian and African immigrant communities.  

 

References: 

Greene, K. M., Duffus, W. A., Xing, J., & King, H. (2017). Social Determinants of Health Associated with HBV Testing and Access to Care among Foreign-born Persons Residing in the United States: 2009 – 2012. Journal of health disparities research and practice, 10(2), 1–20. 

Sunbul M. (2014). Hepatitis B virus genotypes: global distribution and clinical importance. World journal of gastroenterology, 20(18), 5427–5434. https://doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i18.5427 

Nurses need to help wipe out chronic hepatitis B, a disease borne by 300 million people

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nurses such as you and me – yes, that means all nurses (and our welcomed health care counterparts) – likely come across a patient or parent who declines vaccinations for themselves or their children. And it is not uncommon for nurses to be first in line to receive the unfavorable statements refusing these life-sustaining vaccines. 

While every nurse may provide vaccine education at some point in a patient’s life, those in neonatal and maternal-newborn nursing have a greater responsibility with the hepatitis B vaccine. It is for good reason the hep B vaccine is the first immunization given to newborns within 24 hours of birth, followed by a second dose at 1 months, and the third at 6 months. However, communicating those reasons to parents of our newborn patients takes a compassionate, strong and skillful approach. Especially when we are faced with resistance and the unyielding declinations for the hepatitis B vaccine.  

There are various clinical settings and times when nurses can educate new parents and those with children about how the hepatitis B vaccine works and why it is necessary. We have numerous opportunities to identify misconceptions, fears and inaccurate information a parent might have regarding the vaccine. When addressing the highly recommended CDC’s vaccine schedule with parents, the rule of thumb is letting them know to expect their child will get the hep B vaccine series starting at birth. It is typically at this time when pushback from the parents begins to emerge. First and foremost, determining the “why” in what is making the parent hesitant about or declining the hep B vaccine is vital when trying to help them understand the reason vaccination is strongly advised. 

Resistance to hep B vaccination typically relates to not understanding the risks of contracting the virus, a perceived low risk of exposure or safety of the vaccine. Educating parents about complications that acquiring hepatitis B can have on the body can emphasize the vaccine’s purpose. Nurses need to use language that is concise and easy to understand. Nurses can let parents know hepatitis B is a virus that causes inflammation of the liver that damages and compromises its function, which can and often does lead to liver disease and ultimately cancer. Unlike a common bacterial infection that can quickly be treated with antibiotics, acquiring a hepatitis B infection can mean living with a chronic, life-long and potentially life-threatening illness. And the vaccine was established to provide a solution to that problem.  

Parents who perceive a low risk of their child becoming exposed typically minimize the need for the vaccine. A major misconception is that individuals who have hepatitis B have engaged in risky sexual behaviors or are drug users. To counter this impression, we want to make it very clear that hepatitis B can affect anyone. In fact, 40% of people in the U.S. who have a new hepatitis B infection don’t have any known risk factors. It could be helpful to educate parents using real-life scenarios about how the risks are present outside of stigmatized behaviors. For example, educate them that hepatitis B can be spread if their child shares a razor, toothbrush or nail clipper with someone who has the virus. 

If a parent is on the fence about the hep B vaccine, they might come with assumptions rather than questions. They may state, “My baby is too young, he doesn’t have an immune system yet.” You can let them know: “The hep B vaccine is synthetically prepared with small bits of viral protein and does not contain any blood products. This means the vaccine contains no actual virus and cannot infect anyone.” Educating parents about what the vaccine is will help explain how it actually works. You could say: “By introducing a small part of the virus, the body will learn to recognize the virus in case of future exposures and will protect someone for a lifetime.” 

Parents will often raise safety concerns about the vaccine and the erroneous allegations that it can cause autism. This misconception is tied to a preservative (thimerosal) once used in vaccines and this misinformation still lingers on social media. The most effective way to communicate with parents who harbor this misguided belief is by emphasizing the information from trusted and reliable national public health agencies. Nurses could inform parents that thimerosal is no longer used in the hepatitis B vaccine (or any other childhood vaccine except flu), and a page on the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia website (June 1, 2021, https://www.chop.edu/centers-programs/vaccine-education-center/vaccine-ingredients/thimerosal) explains why thimerosal in vaccines isn’t harmful. Also, the single study suggesting that link has been discredited and withdrawn from publication, and the physician-author has been banned from practicing medicine (The New York Times, May 24, 2010, https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/25/health/policy/25autism.html). 

As for the hepatitis B vaccine, as you can read on the Hepatitis B Foundation’s website, “The most highly respected public health agencies and professional medical associations have rigorously studied the safety of the hepatitis B vaccine” (https://www.hepb.org/prevention-and-diagnosis/vaccination/vaccine-safety/). 

Hep B is known as a silent killer, and it is a vaccine-preventable disease at that. For nurses, addressing parents’ hesitancy and navigating a “no” for the hep B vaccine is priority when striving for maximum compliance. Nurses equipped with knowing how to voice the facts and recommendations in a way that doesn’t make parents feel argued with support a greater chance at swaying the decision to vaccinate their children. Using examples that parents can connect to helps achieve a level of understanding that can’t be reached with heavy scientific and textbook language. At the end of the day, if you’ve exhausted all resources and information and a parent still declines the hep B vaccine, simply document and hope for reconsideration down the road. 

This blog post is written by Lacey Hempeler, RN. 

Note: The Hepatitis B Foundation’s consult team can be reached via info@hepb.org. 

  

Podcast Recap: Barriers to Liver Cancer Surveillance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent episode on the B Heppy podcast, Dr. Neehar Parikh, a hepatologist at the University of Michigan, discussed the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, barriers to screening for liver cancer, and screening methods for liver cancer.  

Hepatitis B and Liver Cancer 

Most people are not unaware of the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer. Hepatitis B can cause liver cancer, especially when left untreated or unmonitored. The hepatitis B virus (HBV) can cause serious damage to liver tissue and result in the growth of tumors that may become dangerous over time. This is why doctors recommend patients living with hepatitis B to continue to monitor their liver health and take treatment if necessary to prevent the progression to liver cancer. The best way to check for cancer is by screening. It is recommended to get liver cancer screening (usually through an ultrasound that looks at damaged tissue or abnormal cell growth) once every six months.  

Barriers to Liver Cancer Screening 

There are several barriers to liver cancer screening at the provider and patient levels. For providers, many times liver cancer screening is not prioritized when compared to other types of cancer screening programs. This is partially due to the limited evidence on liver cancer screening benefits (even though data exists to show that liver cancer screening is valuable, it’s not as strong as the evidence used to back up other cancer screening initiatives like colonoscopy or breast cancer screening). This makes liver cancer a less valuable option for providers to recommend to their patients. Providers are also not always following recommendations or guidelines from liver societies on hepatitis B management and liver cancer surveillance. Liver cancer screening is also not included in the United States Preventative Services Taskforce (USPSTF), which is a tool used by most providers in the U.S. to recommend preventative services to their patients.  

From the patient’s perspective, liver cancer screening is not always discussed by providers. For people living with chronic hepatitis B, many are not aware of the link between the virus and liver cancer. They are less likely to ask more questions about monitoring their liver health if the option or recommendation for screening is never brought up in a conversation with their providers. For many people who need liver cancer screening, they have limited access to care (loss to follow-up, lack of health insurance coverage, etc.). Limitations with the electronic health records (EHR) system is a challenge for patients who may find it difficult to schedule appointments (sometimes patients are not sent reminders to get ultrasounds). 

For people living with hepatitis B, liver cancer is a serious health risk. It is crucial to make sure patients are aware of the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer, the role of screening in early diagnosis and prevention of advanced tumors, and the importance of monitoring liver health as recommended by liver societies and guidelines on liver cancer surveillance.  

Listen to Dr. Parikh’s full episode on B Heppy here: https://bheppy.buzzsprout.com/1729790/14248470-barriers-to-liver-cancer-surveillance-with-dr-neehar-parikh. 

Additionally, the Hepatitis B Foundation recently launched a Learn the Link campaign to help spread information on the link between hepatitis B and liver cancer. View all about the campaign and get access to free resources here.: https://www.hepb.org/research-and-programs/liver/hbv-liver-cancer-connection/ 

Podcast Recap: How Clinical Trials Work in the United States

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent B Heppy episode on clinical trials, Dr. Yasmin Ibrahim, Public Health Program Director at the Hepatitis B Foundation, discussed the process of how clinical trials work and the importance of clinical research in moving forward public health programs and interventions. 

What is a Clinical Trial? 

A clinical trial (also called clinical research) is the process for approving new medications or devices for a known health condition or disease. When people hear the term clinical trial, they may hink immediately that participants of that trial are at risk. What most don’t know is that before a medication or medical device is tested on human beings, it must go through a very rigorous process with approval from regulatory authorities and agencies. This is why clinical trials go through phases of approval and safety checks in the research process. We have outlined the phases of clinical trials below to help provide an understanding of the process.  

Pre-clinical or lab studies: Before the drug can be tested on human beings, it is thoroughly researched on living cells and then animals with similar biological makeup, to assess its efficacy (benefits) and safety. 

Clinical Phase I: Researchers test a new drug or treatment on a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety, determine a safe dosage range, and identify any side effects. 

Clinical Phase II: The drug or treatment is given to a larger group of people to see if it is effective and to further evaluate its safety. 

Clinical Phase III: The drug or treatment is given to large groups of people to confirm its effectiveness, monitor side effects, compare it to commonly used treatments, and collect information that will allow the drug or treatment to be used safely. 

Clinical Phase IV: Studies are done after the drug or treatment has been marketed to gather information on the drug’s effect in many different populations and determine any side effects associated with long-term use of the product or drug. 

All new treatments must go through clinical trials before being approved for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), European Medicine Agency (EMA) or any other local regulatory authorities depending on the country.   

Advancing and Sustaining Public Health through Research 

Clinical trials are important because they are the safest way to develop and discover new treatments that work to cure diseases or improve the health and quality of life of patients. Because clinical trials have very strict safety regulations, they also tell us if a treatment is safe for people to use.  

Eligibility Criteria for Participation in Clinical Trials  

Eligibility criteria for clinical trials depends on the type of research being conducted. If a vaccine is being tested, then most participants are healthy to assess the response of the vaccine on the body’s immune system and the ability to produce protective antibodies. In some clinical trials that focus on certain populations or multiple conditions, the criteria may be more specific (e.g., testing the HBV treatments on people living with hepatitis B and diabetes). Study design and objectives determine participant eligibility and criteria. 

Diversity and Inclusivity in Clinical Trials 

Historically, clinical trials have neglected participation from minority populations and under-served communities. For example, sub-Saharan Africa has one of the highest burdens of hepatitis B globally, but clinical trials for hepatitis B are inadequate in those areas. The people who need access to clinical research the most are often denied access to these opportunities due to geographical barriers, lack of political will, regulatory issues, and other logistical challenges. It is important to ensure that all people who are directly impacted by hepatitis B should have access to participating in clinical trials and affording innovative therapies to improve their quality of life. There are steps that pharmaceutical and biotech companies, medical researchers, and public health organizations can take to diversify participation in clinical research. This involves including local patient-centered organizations and patient advocates in the clinical trial participation recruiting process. Partnering with a community is a helpful strategy to build trust with the community and engage people in research. Communication is integral to ensuring that participants fully understand the extent of their participation and the goals behind the research. Participants are encouraged to ask questions from the recruiters before agreeing to participate in the research.  

Find Clinical Trials for Hepatitis B here: https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/clinical-trials/ 

Questions to Ask Providers and Researchers about Clinical Trial Participation: https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/clinical-trials/ask-a-doctor/ 

To listen to the full episode on our podcast, B Heppy, click here. https://bheppy.buzzsprout.com/1729790/13443280 

 

Podcast Recap: Current Treatments in Development for Hepatitis B with Dr. John Tavis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a recent B Heppy episode, Dr. John Tavis, a molecular microbiologist at St. Louis University School of Medicine, shared updates on curative therapies for hepatitis B along with insights on how treatments for hepatitis B are researched and approved for use. 

Hepatitis B is a virus that can cause serious liver disease such as liver cancer or liver failure if undiagnosed, unmanaged or without proper intervention and treatment. While there is no cure for hepatitis B at this time, there are treatment options available to manage the virus. Research to find an optimal and functional cure for hepatitis B is ongoing and clinical trials have been very successful in advancing research pertaining to the cure.  

In some experimental studies conducted around the globe, 30% to 40% of patients have achieved functional cure. In smaller studies, approximately 50% of patients have obtained functional cure. However, research on the cure and the progression of these clinical interventions are still ongoing. While the future looks promising for a functional cure for hepatitis B, existing treatments should not be undermined or overlooked as they provide effective protection from serious liver disease such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.  

There are key terms that are important to understand related to drug development and the hepatitis B space. Below we describe complete, functional and partial cure definitions according to researchers.  

Complete, Functional, and Partial Cure 

Complete Cure: Elimination of all traces of hepatitis B including loss of surface antigen and HBV DNA. 

Functional Cure: the loss of hepatitis B surface antigen and undetectable HBV DNA levels, although trace amounts of HBV DNA may persist in the liver.  

Partial Cure: A stable suppression of the virus with undetectable HBV DNA levels. 

The progress on the cure: 

Current progress and research indicate that a combination of drugs will provide the best outcome as it is not likely that only one drug will achieve a functional cure for hepatitis B at this time. There are different types of drugs that are being studied and each treatment focus on a different aspect of the lifecycle of the virus to prevent replication and growth.  

Some of the current options being studied for hepatitis B treatment include: 

Antisense RNA and SiRNA: These drugs work by suppressing and destroying the viral messenger RNA, which is crucial to make proteins and replicate HBV DNA. Current drugs that use this mechanism to target the virus include Bepirovirsen. Clinical trials have shown effective reduction in HBV DNA and viral proteins.  

Suppressing and destroying the viral RNA (destroys proteins—RNA makes proteins,  

CAMs (capsid assembly modifiers): These drugs work by disrupting the formation of capsids. Capsids provide a protective space for the genetic material of the virus to make sure it is able to transfer to the host cell without any complications. By disrupting the formation of the capsids, the virus is unable to replicate itself as the genetic material gets destroyed during the process.  

NAPs (Nucleic Acid Polymers): These drugs work by blocking secretion of the viral surface antigen outside of the cells so the virus is unable to spread to other cells. In the process, the surface antigen drops in the bloodstream and the immune system is alerted to attack the virus.  

Nucleotide Analogues: These drugs are the first-line treatments for hepatitis B. Antiviral treatments like entecavir and tenofovir are incredibly effective in suppressing HBV viremia and preventing progression of the virus from becoming cancerous. Although they are not considered functional cure, these drugs have low toxicity and are effective in treating people living with hepatitis B.  

 

To stay updated on developments in hepatitis B research, check out our Drug Watch page: https://www.hepb.org/treatment-and-management/drug-watch-2/ 

To listen to the full episode on our podcast, B Heppy, click here. https://bheppy.buzzsprout.com/1729790/13238616-current-treatments-in-development-for-hepatitis-b 

Partner Highlight: Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s Viral Hepatitis Program Makes Great Strides Towards Elimination!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Hepatitis Awareness Month! Continue reading to get to know the Viral Hepatitis Program at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health (PDPH)!  

The Viral Hepatitis Program at PDPH strives to support Philadelphia residents and service providers in several ways, including preventing viral hepatitis infection through education, screening, and vaccination; improving and providing access to affordable treatment; and supporting provider efforts to provide comprehensive viral hepatitis care/treatment. There are many tools that exist to prevent and treat viral hepatitis infections, and even cure them in the case of hepatitis C. Access to these services, however, is not readily available for everyone. The Viral Hepatitis Program aims to increase access and reduce inequities in care through collaborations and programming, in hopes of achieving the 2030 goal of hepatitis B and hepatitis C elimination.  

The Viral Hepatitis Program performs a number of exciting projects to achieve this work! 

 

 

 

Patient Engagement 

Many members of the Viral Hepatitis Program spend their days interacting with patients over the phone. Public health surveillance allows the program to work with hepatitis B and hepatitis C patients to provide individualized support. This outreach provides patients with viral hepatitis education, linkage-to-care, and care navigation along with access to harm reduction materials, support for substance use disorder care, and additional resources. 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: Viral Hepatitis team member, Cassandra Lamadieu, provides viral hepatitis educational materials to community members in attendance at the 2023 Philadelphia Block Captain Rally. 

 

Philly InSync: Provider Engagement  

Through collaborations within PDPH and with a partner organization, the Philly InSync Project provides education and technical assistance to healthcare providers and facilities to integrate harm reduction, substance use disorder care, and care for infectious diseases related to drug use. Philly InSync works with multiple sites to provide testing, care, and treatment of hepatitis B, hepatitis C and other infectious disease care while also providing technical assistance including staff trainings, data improvement strategies, and reducing barriers to care. A technical advisory committee of Philadelphia providers meets quarterly to provide enhanced technical assistance to these sites while learning how to improve the care they provide as well. The program elevates conversations among Philadelphia providers and creates a collaborative community to learn, listen, and share experiences, challenges, and solutions that involve anything from clinical experiences to insurance barriers.   

Pharmacy Project: Increasing Hepatitis A & B Vaccination 

Another project to increase viral hepatitis prevention efforts is the Pharmacy Project, which is focused on improving pharmacy-based vaccination for hepatitis A & B. Annually, the Viral Hepatitis Program conducts a survey of pharmacies in Philadelphia to collect information about hepatitis A and B vaccination services. The survey results are shared with the community on a map that allows patients and providers to find vaccinating pharmacies. The data collected is also used to identify barriers to vaccine access, to inform additional activities to support patients, providers, and pharmacists. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Media 

To engage the community and to promote collaboration, the program runs several social media accounts and provides up-to-date information and resources. To access information on vaccine events, mobile health clinics, and many other health services follow along at the links below! Make sure to follow along during the month of May for some special Hepatitis Awareness Month content!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C Elimination Plan 

The Viral Hepatitis Program and local partners and community members have worked together to create a plan for the elimination of hepatitis B and hepatitis C in Philadelphia. To see information on this process visit: Philadelphia Hepatitis B & Hepatitis C Elimination Plan Community Engagement Executive Summary. Striving to eliminate the impact of these infections from Philadelphia is not a new effort, as a committed community of viral hepatitis eliminators has been hard at work for quite some time. Hep B United – Philadelphia and The Hepatitis C Allies of Philadelphia (HepCAP) are the two local coalitions made up of individuals and organizations committed to viral hepatitis elimination. While much has been accomplished, PDPH and the local community of eliminators are continuing the work to provide services to educate, prevent, vaccinate, test, link-to-care, and treat these two diseases in Philadelphia. The Plan will be released in 2023. 

 

To learn more about viral hepatitis or for any questions… 

Websites: Phillyhepatitis.org & Hepcap.org 

Email: hep-ddc@phila.gov 

To order educational materials: bit.ly/hepeducationalmaterials  

Hepatitis B and Injection Drug Use: Risks, Barriers to Care, and Prevention Strategies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hepatitis B is a liver infection which is caused by the hepatitis B Virus (HBV). Hepatitis B is transmitted from person to person through blood, semen, or other bodily fluids. You can learn more about the ways hepatitis B is spread here. People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk for contracting the virus due to the sharing of needles and low  awareness and education about hepatitis B.

HBV Prevalence among PWID Communities

People who inject drugs (PWID) are at high risk for hepatitis B virus infection due to various factors, including sharing injection equipment and lack of awareness about hepatitis B transmission. Using unclean needles to inject drugs can result in the exchange of blood. This increases a person’s risk of being exposed to the virus. Hepatitis B prevalence among PWID is much higher than in the general population. Chronic HBV infection has been identified in 3.5% to 20.0% of PWID in a variety of settings, and 22.6% of PWID have evidence of past infection (Haber & Schillie, 2021). Drug injection is the most common risk for persons ages 18-40 years old with hepatitis B virus. 

Barriers to Care for PWID Communities

Access to treatment can be a significant barrier for PWID, who may face stigma and discrimination in healthcare settings. To find out if someone has hepatitis B it is recommended that a triple panel hepatitis B test be run (which includes HBsAg, HBcAb and HBsAb). These tests will help identify people with hepatitis B, a previous exposure to hepatitis B and those who have protection against hepatitis B infection (through vaccination). For those with hepatitis B, treatment options for hepatitis B consist of antiviral medications that can help to control the virus and reduce the risk of serious liver damage, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. Treatment is taken daily for life generally. PWID lack access to these treatments due to the stigma attached with substance use and addiction. Some of these stigmas include being associated with dangerous, unpredictable, and lacking self-control (NIH, 2019). In a recent study, 88% of individuals from PWID have experienced some type of stigma from the healthcare system (NIH, 2019).  Some of these stigmas included being poorly treated in healthcare facilities while interacting with nurses, security guards, and other medical providers. Due to these biases, people often refuse to seek health care services to avoid mistreatment. Stigma is the top barrier for PWID communities worldwide (Biancarelli et al, 2019). Even though the cost of treatment may be a barrier for some people, there are resources to find affordable options. Learn more about accessing medication here

Prevention Strategies

One effective prevention strategy to combat the spread of hepatitis B among PWID is to use clean injection equipment, like needles, works, and syringes. This will reduce the likelihood of transmission. New services have been introduced in cities like Philadelphia to decrease the rate of sharing needles. Prevention Point Philadelphia for example is a nonprofit public health organization that works to provide comprehensive harm reduction services to Philadelphia and surrounding areas. The syringe service program specifically allows used syringes to be exchanged for clean ones. With these services, the need to share needles can decline, which then can help decrease the risk of hepatitis B and other infectious diseases being spread in the community. Needle and syringe programs also provide other social and health services, such as counseling,  hepatitis testing, and referral to drug treatment for example.

Another way to prevent hepatitis B in PWID is through education and outreach efforts to help raise awareness about the risks of transmission and how to reduce those risks. This will also encourage safer injection practices to reduce the risk of transmission through blood contact. Other recommendations for prevention of hepatitis B among people who inject drugs is to offer vaccinations for PWID communities. The hepatitis B vaccine is safe and effective and recommended for all adults in the US between the ages of 18-59 and above 59 with risk factors. Testing is another great way to help the community- to identify infection and encourage prevention through vaccination ultimately preventing liver cancer in the long run. Offering people who inject drugs incentives to increase uptake and complete the vaccination schedule is also a way to prevent hepatitis B in PWID (WHO, 2023).  The United States has set a goal to decrease the number of cases of hepatitis B in the PWID community. The National Progress Report goal is to reduce the rate of new hepatitis B virus infections among people who inject drugs by more than 25% by 2025 (CDC, 2020). 

 

To learn more about the resources provided by Prevention Point, click here.

 

References:

World Health Organization. (2022, June 24). Hepatitis B. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hepatitis-b

World Health Organization. (2015, March). Guidelines for the prevention, care and treatment of persons with chronic hepatitis B infection. World Health Organization. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789241549059

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, August 11). NP report 2025 goal: Reduced HBV rate among PWID. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 15, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/policy/NPR/2020/NationalProgressReport-HepB-ReduceInfectionsPWID.htm

Biancarelli DL, Biello KB, Childs E, Drainoni M, Salhaney P, Edeza A, Mimiaga MJ, Saitz R, Bazzi AR. Strategies used by people who inject drugs to avoid stigma in healthcare settings. Drug Alcohol Depend. 2019 May 1;198:80-86. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2019.01.037. Epub 2019 Mar 8. PMID: 30884432; PMCID: PMC6521691.

Haber, P., & Schillie, S. (2021, August 18). Pinkbook: Hepatitis B. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 24, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/hepb.html 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, March 17). QuickStats: Age-adjusted drug overdose death rates, by state – National Vital Statistics System, United States, 2021. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved March 19, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/72/wr/mm7211a7.htm?s_cid=mm7211a7_e&ACSTrackingID=USCDC_921-DM101471&ACSTrackingLabel=This+Week+in+MMWR+-+Vol.+72%2C+March+17%2C+2023&deliveryName=USCDC_921-DM101471

Board of Health, Department of Public Health. (2022, October 26). Health Department releases data on 2021 overdose deaths in Philadelphia: Department of Public Health. City of Philadelphia. Retrieved March 20, 2023, from https://www.phila.gov/2022-10-26-health-department-releases-data-on-2021-overdose-deaths-in-philadelphia/

A Quick Introduction to Public Health Funding in the United States

Written by Frank Hood- Associate Director of Policy and Partnerships at Hepatitis B Foundation!

 

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on why countries need a robustly funded public health system that can respond to the needs of its citizens quickly. In the United States, that public health system is a patchwork of federal, state, and local departments, agencies, and programs. Each has their own rules and regulations, which can be challenging to navigate. You might have a hard time seeing how it all works together without falling apart. And you might struggle to understand how resources can find their way to the local health centers and community-based organizations doing much of the important health work on the ground. This blog post provides a basic overview of how public health funding works within the United States. 

Hundreds of federal departments, agencies, and programs funnel money into the public health system of the United States. One of the more familiar organizations is the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Among its many health-related functions, HHS handles disease prevention and outbreak response through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and provides health coverage for underserved and older Americans through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). Other departments like the Department of Agriculture (USDA) may not seem like a key source of health funding, and yet support dietary health initiatives and help states build rural medical facilities through infrastructure investment programs.

The amount of funding these departments, agencies, and programs receive varies yearly. Some funding, like for Medicare and Medicaid, doesn’t require an annual vote from Congress (known as “mandatory spending” in policy-speak) and is just paid for as expenses are incurred. Other funding, like for the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), requires a yearly vote of Congress as well as sign-off by the President. This is known as discretionary spending. Most US public health programs fall in the discretionary spending category. That vote happens each year after the House and the Senate go through a formal process to determine how much money every department, agency, and program in the entire federal government receives. This process also includes specifying any special instructions or conditions associated with the funding like restrictions on how the money can be spent or requesting a status report on the impact of a specific program

If Congress can’t agree on funding levels by the start of the new fiscal year, then a government shutdown occurs. In those instances, any non-essential federal program funded by discretionary spending would be forced to suspend operations, while state and local programs would still be able to function but would not receive federal funds during that time.

Once Congress approves funding levels, federal funds and agencies begin the process of distributing money to their various internal programs and to states and other localities. In the simplest terms, many agencies will send money to states in the form of grants that the states apply for by listing how they would use the money and what positive impact it will have on the state. The amount of funding that passes down to states depends on the function of the agency. State health departments receive the largest percentage of their funding from federal sources, so the grant-making process can lead to states competing for limited federal funds. Federal funds make up anywhere between half and two-thirds of states’ total health funding.

Much of the remaining funding for state health departments comes from their state legislatures. Each state has their own specific process, but most states mirror the federal approach of having their legislatures determine how much state funding should be given to various departments, agencies, and programs in the state and any restrictions on the use of that funding. Other sources of public health dollars include fines, fees, charitable donations, and public-private partnerships.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Generally, state health departments send their dollars to local health departments, which deliver direct care or education on the ground. The funding the state keeps  is often used to pay for state-wide health systems like health surveillance, emergency response, and prevention education. How states determine where money goes varies, but there are usually similarities to how federal departments and agencies determine which states should receive what funding with grant applications.  

Once local health departments and community-based organizations have funding in-hand, they then must spend it according to the rules and regulations set by the source (Congressional instructions, federal agency requirements, state requirements, etc.).  

At this point, you see the complex tapestry of public health funding in action in your community: the health screenings at the local fair, the vaccine drives at your local place of worship, and even when your child brings home a pamphlet from a health educational program held at school. It’s all public health funding in action. 

In addition to public funds, some programs are funded in part directly through donations from people like you. If a public health program means a lot to you, see if you can help the organization who put it together by volunteering, spreading the word or donating. 

 

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/about/organization/mission.htm 

https://www.cms.gov/ 

https://www.usda.gov/our-agency/about-usda/mission-areas 

https://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R47106 

https://www.crfb.org/papers/qa-everything-you-should-know-about-government-shutdowns 

https://www.astho.org/topic/public-health-infrastructure/profile/#activities 

https://www.norc.org/PDFs/PH%20Financing%20Report%20-%20Final.pdf 

https://www.norc.org/PDFs/PH%20Financing%20Report%20-%20Final.pdf 

https://www.publichealthlawcenter.org/resources/state-local-public-health-overview-regulatory-authority 

If You Have Hepatitis B, Donating Your Blood May Change the Face of Hepatitis B Testing.

The Hepatitis B Foundation has partnered with Plasma Services Group to educate people living with Hepatitis B about the critical need for blood donation. This is not like the local blood drives you always hear about. Instead, Plasma Services Group focuses on specialty plasma collection which supports the making of diagnostic tests used in labs around the world. The demand for HBV testing grows every year, but access to those tests is not assured. As you know, only 25% of people in the U.S. and 10% of people worldwide with Hepatitis B have been diagnosed. With your help, we can reduce those real-life barriers to Hepatitis B testing and improve lives. Follow the link.

How do I donate?

Donating your blood to Plasma Services Group is easy. After you complete this form, they will reach out to you if you are a good candidate for blood donation. If chosen, they will send a phlebotomist to your home to complete the blood-draw.  PSG compensates participants financially as a thank you for the trust, time and efforts associated with donation. This program is only available to U.S. residents who are preferably in the Northeast. You must be 18 years of age or older and weight 110 pounds or more. You must be living with chronic Hepatitis B, which means you have had Hepatitis B for over 6 months.

Why this is important to the future of Hepatitis B?

As you may know, access to good healthcare isn’t always easy. By creating new blood tests, we can help diagnose Hepatitis B more reliably which helps more people get into care and manage their hepatitis B. Your blood donation could directly impact the detection, care and quality of life for millions of people living with hepatitis B who have not been diagnosed yet, as well as those who are managing their care on a daily basis.

Despite the large population of people living with hepatitis B, it is hard for companies that source biological raw materials to recruit donors. Most people are unaware of the large amount of blood plasmas that are essential to manufacture test kits. Rarer subtypes that are prevalent in Africa and Asia, where the need for detection is the highest and growing the fastest, are even harder to find in N. America. By becoming a regular donor to Plasma Services Group, you are filling a vital role for the medical diagnostic industry and helping to close the gap between patient and care.

Get started today!

Fill out this form and Plasma Services Group will fill you in on next steps.