New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is touting the newly created state Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force as the nation's first strategy to eliminate the viral infection being exacerbated by the ongoing opioid epidemic.
The Democrat says the campaign will include increasing access to medications that can cure hepatitis C and expanding programs to connect people with prevention, screening and treatment services. The $5 million initiative follows last year's Hepatitis C elimination summit held in Albany.
Clifton Garmon is the Senior Policy Analyst at Vocal-NY: "There could be no better time than now for the governor to announce this commitment and to start allocating those resources, as we've never seen rates this high. So, I would say that the community really stands behind any new effort that's being made to commit those resources now more than ever. It's extremely important."
State officials say more than 200,000 New Yorkers are affected by the infection that causes liver inflammation and can lead to serious liver damage. The virus spreads through contaminated blood, with the heroin epidemic sparking a rise in new cases.
Colleen Flanigan is the director of the Bureau of Hepatitis Health Care at the New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute. "That task force will take a set of recommendations that have been developed by community members, by Hepatitis C experts, by health care providers, by public health experts. And those recommendations outline an elimination plan for New York State. So that task force and its members will assist with the implementation of the Hepatitis C Elimination Plan. And so that plan includes ensuring that individuals who are Hepatitis C-infected get linked to care, initiate treatment, and get cured of their Hepatitis C disease."
Officials point out that while anyone can contract Hepatitis C, baby boomers – those folks born between 1945 and 1965 are five times more likely to be carrying the virus. Officials say young adult New Yorkers have recently experienced an increase in "Hep C" that's paralleling rises in drug overdoses resulting from opiate abuse.