On June 20th, the New York Senate joined the Assembly in passing a first-in-the-nation hepatitis C testing law. If Governor Cuomo signs it, thousands of New Yorkers living with hepatitis C will learn their status and gain access to life-saving care. Since the legislation was introduced early this year, hundreds of VOCAL leaders have worked to pass it, participating in numerous outreach visits to state lawmakers, a legislative briefing and advocacy day in March, and a major rally in Albany on June 11. Read coverage of the bill’s passage in the Albany Times Union.
The bill, sponsored by Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski and Senator Kemp Hannon, would require hospitals and healthcare clinics to offer hepatitis C testing to baby boomers, the age group that accounts for three-quarters of all infections. It is modeled on new guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as well as NYS’s successful 2010 HIV testing law.
“People deserve to know their hepatitis C status so they can take steps to protect their health,” said Diane Nunez, a VOCAL-NY leader living with hepatitis C from the Bronx. “Many people living with hepatitis C can now be cured with new medication that’s available. But they can only be cured if they know their status early enough.”
The hepatitis C virus is the leading cause of liver disease and now kills more Americans each year than HIV/AIDS. It is transmitted by blood-to-blood contact and most people living with the virus were infected either during medical procedures before 1992 when the United States introduced universal blood product screening, or from injection drug use with non-sterile syringes. Communities of color and people born between 1945 – 1965 are disproportionately affected.
Hep C does not have to be a death sentence. Despite rising mortality from hepatitis C-related causes, most people can be cured if they are diagnosed and gain access to care and treatment.
The challenge is that people can be infected with the hepatitis C virus for decades without having any noticeable symptoms. During that time, the virus begins to cause liver scarring and may lead to debility or early death if left undiagnosed and untreated. Because most people with hepatitis C have no idea they’re infected, it’s become known as the “silent epidemic.” More than 200,000 New Yorkers are thought to be living with hepatitis C and most do not know they are infected.
By enabling New Yorkers with hepatitis C to learn their status and access treatment, this bill is a major step forward in the fight against the epidemic and serves as a national model. Stay tuned for details on how you can help convince Governor Cuomo to sign it.
In addition to bill sponsors Assembly Member Kenneth Zebrowski and Senator Kemp Hannon, we want to thank our partners in the campaign and the many endorsers, including (but not limited to!) the Harm Reduction Coalition, Mark O’Rourke, AARP, AIDS Care of Rochester, AIDS Community Resources of Syracuse, Catholic Charities of Albany, CitiWide Harm Reduction, Community Health Action of Staten Island, Harlem United, Latino Commission on AIDS, Long Island Council of Alcoholsm & Drug Dependence, Long Island Minority AIDS Coalition, NAACP, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, National Viral Hepatitis Roundtable, NY Harm Reduction Educators, Southern Tier AIDS Project and Village Care.