Viral hepatitis is the most common blood-borne pathogen in the United States. It is estimated that over 5 million people in the U.S. are living with hepatitis B or hepatitis C infection, and 65%-75% of infected individuals are unaware of their infection status.
Because of the high disease burden, low rate of testing and high proportion of people who do not know they are infected, viral hepatitis infection has been described as a “silent epidemic.” Lack of awareness of viral hepatitis in the U.S. contributes to continuing transmission, missed opportunities for prevention, missed possibilities for effective treatment and poor health outcomes in infected persons.
In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released its first Action Plan for the Prevention, Care, and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis to provide a strategic framework for combating the epidemic. The Action Plan, which was the first cross-cutting federal initiative to address the viral hepatitis epidemic, detailed more than 150 actions to be undertaken between 2011 and 2013. Achieving the goals of the Action Plan required effort from a range of stakeholders including federal and local government, community-based organizations and the private sector.
Under a contract with HHS, Battelle was tasked with assessing and evaluating the response to the Action Plan. Researchers captured input from a range of stakeholders including federal, state and local government agencies, healthcare settings, community-based organizations, non-profits and the private sector. A community assessment was also conducted in Alabama, Massachusetts, New York and Washington to identify activities from the Action Plan that were being implemented locally as well as challenges facing local stakeholders in executing this work.
To collect information, the Battelle team utilized key informant interviews, site visits, and observations of viral hepatitis planning meetings. A summary of findings was presented to HHS during an in-person briefing. The results helped to inform the second iteration of the Action Plan, which was released in February 2014 to guide 2014-2016 viral hepatitis activities.