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Hep Free Hawaii announces plan to combat hepatitis A, B, C

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To pay homage to World Hepatitis Day, community coalition Hep Free Hawaii announced Tuesday its strategic plan to tackle Hepatitis A, B and C — marking the first effort in the nation to address all viral hepatitis diseases.

The plan was dubbed “Hep Free 2030,” with a clear goal to “eliminate” hepatitis in Hawaii by 2030. The term “eliminate” means when there are no new cases of hepatitis across a specific area, according the World Health Organization.

The plan began last year when Hep Free Hawaii
observed other states working on strategic plans, but only to address one type of hepatitis.

Co-Director Heather Lusk said “Hep Free 2030” was an inclusive way to address all viral hepatitis.

Although there are five types of hepatitis, hepatitis A, B and C are those that Hep Free Hawaii will address. Hepatitis A, B and C are different viruses, but all infect the liver.

Hepatitis A is transmitted by consuming contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected body fluids, injection drug use, having sex with an infected partner or sharing razors. Hepatitis C, which is one of the most common bloodborne viral infections in the U.S., is transmitted the same ways as hepatitis B.

Hepatitis A and C are
curable, but hepatitis B is treatable.

About 63,000 locals may be affected by hepatitis, according to Hep Free Hawaii. Hepatitis might also contribute to Hawaii’s high rate of liver cancer.

However, Co-Director Thaddeus Pham said there is a lack of local statistics to track accurate hepatitis data from people who might have it.

“We do have data that liver cancer is one of the highest in the nation and in Hawaii, and hepatitis causes most of that liver cancer,” Pham said. “We know that it affects multiple communities, so we highlight them here. … We have to work with our houseless communities, our sexual and gender minority communities, people who are Asian or
Pacific Islanders, especially if they’re foreign-born, and our Native Hawaiian communities.”

“We will continue to figure out ways to prevent new
infections and to care for people who are living with hepatitis,” he said.

In a two-hour-long Zoom meeting, Hep Free Hawaii highlighted five priorities in its strategic plan on how to prevent new hepatitis cases: awareness and education, access to services, advocacy at all levels, equity in everything, and data for decision-making.

Additionally, Hep Free
Hawaii brought up its core values of harm reduction, social justice, “intersectionality” and aloha.

The planning involved 24 formal meetings and talks with over 160 people for feedback and surveys.

“We have the tools we need to eliminate hepatitis,” Lusk said.

“Hep Free 2030” has received support from U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and Lt. Gov. Josh Green.