NY Governor Creating Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force

Gov. Cuomo announced it as part of a broad strategy to stop the spread of the virus. "As a physician, I have seen firsthand the harmful effects Hepatitis C can have, and as the number of cases continues to increase across the state, it is clear we need to address this problem head on," Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker said.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced July 27 what he called the nation's first strategy to eliminate hepatitis C. It includes a Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force that will advise the state as it implements the plan. The elimination effort aims to stop the spread of the virus by increasing access to medications that can cure hepatitis C and expanding programs to connect New Yorkers with prevention, screening, and treatment services. Hepatitis C, or HCV, is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus that affects more than 200,000 New Yorkers, according to the announcement.

"This holistic, first-in-the-nation approach to eradicating hepatitis C is modeled on our ongoing efforts to end the AIDS epidemic and will improve the health of many of the most vulnerable among us, including people battling drug addiction," Cuomo said. "We are going to end hepatitis C in New York State."

Hepatitis C-related deaths have exceeded HIV-related deaths in the state, outside of New York City, since 2007. With injecting drug use as the most common risk factor, the opioid epidemic has caused an increase in new hepatitis C cases. The state will deploy harm reduction strategies that incorporate a spectrum of tools that include safer use, managed use, and abstinence to help people who use drugs gradually improve their situations.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the plan to combat Hepatitis C will provide funding to expand treatment options and increase access to medications. "More than 200,000 New Yorkers are living with the disease despite having the treatments available to cure it. New York is committed to investing in services to ensure that all New Yorkers have the access they need to treatment in order to live healthier lives," she added.

The new task force will be comprised of a steering committee and five subcommittees that will focus on priority areas, including prevention; care and treatment access; testing and linkage to care; surveillance, data, and metrics; and social determinants. Subcommittee members will include consumers, community members, providers, researchers, harm reduction and social service providers, payers, and public health staff.

Cuomo also announced $5 million in new funding for hepatitis C services, and he directed the New York State Department of Health to implement new policies setting out specific requirements for approval of primary care licenses in harm reduction settings, in order to expand the network of hepatitis C treatment providers and ensure availability of on-site hepatitis C treatment and medically assisted treatment for opioid use disorders.

The department will launch an HCV public awareness campaign to reach all New Yorkers and a targeted message aimed at populations with the highest prevalence or risk to contract Hepatitis C. Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker said, "As a physician, I have seen firsthand the harmful effects Hepatitis C can have, and as the number of cases continues to increase across the state, it is clear we need to address this problem head on. Governor Cuomo's commitment to ending the AIDS epidemic is well documented, and I look forward to working to end the Hepatitis C epidemic, as well."

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