Energized Health Advocates Rally at City Hall to End the Hepatitis Epidemic

Yesterday on May 10th, the Al D. Rodriguez Liver Foundation (ADRLF) once again joined forces with New York City’s growing coalition of advocates devoted to fighting hepatitis. Crowds gathered at the steps of City Hall to raise awareness about the “silent epidemic” and promote community testing events across the city. The event took place to commemorate National Hepatitis Awareness Month, which is observed during the month of May each year, also coinciding with National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day (May 15th) and National Hepatitis Testing Day (May 19th).

ADRLF’s Co-Founding Board Member, Dr. Carlos Ortiz shared that the rally was set on a beautiful, sunny day. “The energy was great. There were many posters supporting Hep Free NYC, and there were exciting speeches that rallied the enthusiastic crowd.”

Representatives from different health advocacy groups gathered to promote hepatitis awareness.

Representatives from different health advocacy groups gathered to promote hepatitis awareness. (Photo Credit: Liz Maney)

“What I witnessed — that truly inspired me — was the sheer amount of people; even more so, this year’s variety of people,” Dr. Ortiz added. “And beyond that, the consistency and diligence of these attendees (now growing in number) who, every year, are fighting for this important cause: to end hepatitis. It’s why ADRLF remains committed to joining up with fellow advocates on this special day.”

Devoted to raising awareness and education, the event’s organizers provided a full recap of the morning, courtesy of their press release (excerpted below):

Speakers included the NYC Health Department’s Acting Deputy Commissioner of Disease Control Demetre Daskalakis, Councilmember Member Corey Johnson, Councilmember Margaret Chin, Hepatitis C Survivor Khalil Islam, members of the HOPE and Team HBV student initiatives, Bethsy Morales of the Hispanic Federation, and Daniel Leyva of the Latino Commission on AIDS.

Representatives and advocates from affected communities including city officials, patients, health workers, community workers, friends and families shared their stories today in hopes of encouraging action among New Yorkers to get tested and to demand better access to prevention and treatment.

Viral hepatitis disproportionately affects the Asian, African, African American, and Latino communities, as well as people who use drugs, formerly or currently incarcerated men and women, and the LGBTQ community. In New York City, a reported 146,500 people are infected with hepatitis C, and 100,000 people are infected with hepatitis B. Viral hepatitis is the leading cause of liver cancer in the United States, and those affected by hepatitis face strong barriers to care and treatment.

There is a vaccine available to prevent hepatitis B, and there are treatments to prevent serious liver disease and cancer for those already infected with either hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

“Our State is facing a serious viral hepatitis crisis that disproportionately affects minority communities. This event provides the opportunity to raise further awareness on this “silent epidemic” while we continue discussing the policies we need to implement in order to successfully combat and eliminate viral hepatitis in our City and our State,” said State Senator Gustavo Rivera. “I will continue working with the Hispanic Federation and fellow advocates to find legislative solutions that will efficiently combat this epidemic in order to improve our City and State’s public health outcomes.”

ADRLF Co-founder and Board Member Dr. Carlos Ortiz joined the rally with Bethsy Morales-Reid, Director of Community Health Engagement of the Hispanic Federation, and fellow liver health advocates. (Photo Credit: Liz Maney)

ADRLF Co-founder and Board Member Dr. Carlos Ortiz joined the rally with Bethsy Morales-Reid, Director of Community Health Engagement of the Hispanic Federation, and fellow liver health advocates. (Photo Credit: Liz Maney)

“Viral hepatitis has long affected some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including low-income and immigrant communities,” said Council Member Corey Johnson. “In order to fight back against it, we need to spread awareness and make healthcare accessible and culturally competent in new and innovative ways. That’s why the work of these organizations is so critically important. I thank all the participating organizations, as well as the NYC Department of Health for being active leaders in the fight to end viral hepatitis.”

“We are at a moment where science and medicine have shown us a way out of the epidemic of Hepatitis C,” said Dr. Demetre Daskalakis from the NYC Health Department. “The time is now for New York City to mobilize community, private, and government partners to address viral hepatitis and accelerate the implementation of better screening and access to life-saving treatments to people living with hepatitis B and C.  We need to test more, treat more, and support strategies to address the social drivers that will lead us to a ‘Hep-Free’ generation. Intensive navigation services and support for clinicians to effectively treat people with hepatitis C, supported by the NYC Health Department, are a key step in better identifying and curing hepatitis C.”

“We collectively invite you to join our mission to screen, vaccinate, and increase awareness around hepatitis and its alarming yet silent relationship to liver cancer,” said the founding board members of ADRLF. “To honor Al, we continue to amplify our focus on Latino (Spanish/Portuguese-speaking) populations, as well as art-based communities, vis-à-vis highlighting and providing education around hepatitis related issues such as:  awareness, stigma, treatment access, and mobilization. In fortifying support and engaging new allies, our voices together will continue to grow and spread this important message across small under-served communities and global borders, regardless of immigration status. To kick off National Hepatitis Month, we ask you to: Screen! Vaccinate! Don’t Hesitate!”

“During May’s observance of Hepatitis Awareness Month, we also mark National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day (NHHAD),” said Daniel Leyva, Director of the Latino Religious Leadership Program of the Latino Commission on AIDS. “Both of these events highlight the importance of strengthening efforts to address hepatitis C virus infection in the United States and among Latinos respectively. While the prevalence of hepatitis C in the general population is 1.5%, it is estimated to be 2.6% in the Latino community. Some of our Latino communities are at much greater risk, such as our substance using and transgender communities. Today, we need to renew our commitment to promote HCV testing and to continue bringing awareness about life saving treatment to cure HCV. Only by working together, we will achieve a healthier NY for all.”

 “As opioid use among young people continues to increase, so does hepatitis C infection.  According to the CDC, the rate of hepatitis C among Hispanics increased 13.6% from 2013 to 2014. We are deeply concerned about these rates and the lack of accessible information and care. Hispanic Federation is working tirelessly to ensure that we eliminate the hepatitis C and B virus in our communities through advocacy, screening, vaccination, education, and treatment access,” said Bethsy Morales-Reid, Director of Community Health Engagement at the Hispanic Federation. 

In recognition of National Hepatitis Awareness Month, New York City community-based organizations will be hosting hepatitis screening events and educational workshops throughout the month of May. ADRLF encourages you to join this growing movement to end hepatitis!

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You know our ADRLF motto: Screen! Vaccinate! Don’t Hesitate!

Know more about Hepatitis Awareness Month here

Join upcoming hepatitis awareness activities in NYC here 

Learn more about National Hispanic Hepatitis Awareness Day here

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