During a seminar at the 2013 United States Conference on AIDS, Ryan Clary presented information about how the lessons learned from HIV advocacy translate into viral hepatitis advocacy. Clary is Director of Policy and Programs at the National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable
, a coalition of about 200 organizations across the country fighting on behalf of people with hepatitis B and C.
Around five million Americans have hepatitis B or C. “The really scary part is that up to 70 percent of these people don’t know they have it,” said Clary. Since the disease often isn’t accompanied by any symptoms early on, many people present with symptoms of very late stage liver cancer. More than 15,000 people die of hepatitis B or C in the US every year.
Clary explained that the demographics behind hepatitis C are important, since 75% of cases are found in people born between 1945 and 1965 (ie, the Baby Boomers). African Americans, Asians, Latinos, people with HIV, veterans, prisoners, and homeless people are also affected in greater numbers. Of people with HIV in the US, about 25% are also affected with hepatitis C, and about 10% are infected with hepatitis B. This is one of the main reasons liver failure is a major cause of death in people with HIV.
According to Cleary, there are many similarities between the challenges faced by people who have HIV and those who have viral hepatitis. Both groups face social stigma, and may or may not know their status, and the disease disproportionately affects similar communities. Many services and clinics have begun integrating HIV and hepatitis treatment.