Why We Need National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day

By Jason Liu

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C advocates joined together in front of City Hall on Oct. 17, 2011. Photo by Angela Pang.

Declaration of the National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day came at the heels of the first national plan devised by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to address the prevention, care and treatment of viral hepatitis. The first National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day happens to coincide with the Asian Heritage Street Celebration, where visitors can get free Hepatitis B and C screenings.

National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day is meant to highlight the six key components of a grand plan. As mentioned at last year’s Hep B Free Gala in San Francisco, the plan is to combat a silent epidemic by 1) increasing knowledge and awareness about chronic viral hepatitis among providers, patients, and at-risk communities, 2) improve testing, care, and treatment to prevent liver disease and cancer which could affect over 25% of those chronically infected, 3) strengthening surveillance, 4) stepping up vaccination efforts to eliminate transmission of vaccine-preventable hepatitis, especially during birth, 5) reducing drug-use-related transmission and 6)protect patients and workers from healthcare-associated transmission.

But why would we need a day dedicated to hepatitis testing. Why is it so important? Because the reality is that the disease is here for the long haul, and because the ever-present stigma towards the disease is reinforcing our reluctance to see a physician or drop by a free clinic to have our blood tested. Because we need to have the rhetorical alarm clock that chimes once a year to remind us of a problem we haven’t yet solved, and a day we all rally to recognize what remains to be accomplished. Even as we speak, in President Obama’s recent Global Health Initiative proposal, viral hepatitis remains to be included despite its global prevalence, proven methods to prevent the disease, and lethal consequences for chronically infected patients who lack access to treatment.

So this is the day, on the eighth annual Asian Heritage Street Celebration, to set aside any prejudice towards anyone that is infected and to respect that the disease is often inherited through birth. Today is the day to see a physician or to drop by the mobile clinics which certain Bay Area hospitals have established for your well-being.  It’s the day to tell your friends and family – to be vocal about these efforts to end a disease that could be prevented. Shout, because even though the disease received recognition from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, even the President’s office needs the occasional reminder to include viral hepatitis in a global health plan. Otherwise, it will continue to be a shame that people die of a disease that could be prevented.

The name itself, National Viral Hepatitis Testing Day, very directly states the first step towards eradicating this lingering community health problem. And ultimately, I look forward to the day it serves its purpose, and it could be replaced with a day where viral hepatitis is not remembered for its impact on patients and families in the global community, but as just a routine vaccination.

Jason Liu is the interim project coordinator of the San Francisco Hep B Free Campaign.