Nobel Prize in Medicine Raises Awareness, but More Work is Needed to Eliminate HCV

By Kyle Taylor October 5, 2020

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 
October 5, 2020 

CONTACT: 
Kyle Taylor, Director, Communications, NASTAD 
ktaylor@NASTAD.org

Nobel Prize in Medicine Raises Awareness, but More Work is Needed to Eliminate HCV

Washington, DC – The Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded jointly to scientists Dr. Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton, and Charles M. Rice today for their discovery of the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Their groundbreaking work allowed for the virus to be identified and cured, paving the way for the elimination of hepatitis within our lifetimes.

HCV elimination is within our reach. According to the World Health Organization, hepatitis B and C can be eliminated as a public health threat by 2030. But more work and investment will be needed if we are to achieve the end of the hepatitis epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated that “our nation is losing ground in the battle against hepatitis – infections of which kill more Americans than all other reportable diseases combined.” NASTAD believes that our public health system needs to focus greater attention and resources on an equitable response to preventing and controlling HCV infections, especially among people who inject drugs (PWID) and other people placed at risk.

Policymakers need to commit to a more urgent response to the HCV epidemic. Curative treatments for HCV reduce infections and prevent morbidity and mortality among people living with HCV, however the impact of these treatments will be severely blunted unless barriers to care, such as prior authorization for HCV treatment and HCV criminalization, are removed.  

Among the highest priority strategies and the most cost-effective approaches for communities to prevent HCV infections are to focus energy and resources on increasing awareness for individuals to know their status and get tested. Additionally, there is critical need to decentralize HCV screening and curative treatment from specialist care settings into a broader range of settings, including syringe services programs. These measures include integrating HCV services with access to clean drug injection equipment, overdose prevention, substance use counseling and treatment, and opioid treatment medications, collectively known as harm reduction services.

“NASTAD believes that controlling and eventually eliminating HCV in the U.S. is possible,” said NASTAD Executive Director Stephen Lee. “To achieve this goal, policymakers, public health professionals, pharmaceutical and diagnostics companies and public and private payers must work together to ensure that adequate resources are allocated to prevent HCV infections from occurring and providing quality care to all who are living with HCV. We believe that eliminating HCV should be a top public health priority. Unless we act boldly and urgently, we will continue losing ground in the battle against hepatitis and more generations of Americans will be infected. This does not have to be the case. We are hopeful that stakeholders at the national, state, and local levels will join our efforts to make the elimination of HCV in the U.S. a reality.”

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NASTAD is a leading non-partisan non-profit association that represents public health officials who administer HIV and hepatitis programs in the U.S. Our singular mission is to end the intersecting epidemics of HIV, viral hepatitis, and related conditions. We do this work by strengthening domestic and global governmental public health through advocacy, capacity building, and social justice.