New Hepatitis C Advisory Council Draws Praise From Commissioner, Legislators, Advocates

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 5, 2008) – Patient advocates, legislators and clinicians joined State Health Commissioner Richard F. Daines, M.D., today to support funding in Governor Eliot Spitzer's proposed 2008-09 Executive Budget for a new comprehensive hepatitis C program and the creation of a Hepatitis C Advisory Council to help guide the initiative.

Governor Spitzer's budget provides an appropriation of $1.6 million to improve the health status of persons infected with hepatitis C and help prevent new infections. The new Hepatitis C Advisory Council, established at the Governor's direction, is holding its first meeting today to begin mapping out efforts to improve prevention, detection and treatment.

Hepatitis C, a liver disease, is the most common chronic bloodborne viral infection in the United States. An estimated 304,000 New Yorkers have been infected with hepatitis C, including nearly 240,000 with chronic infections. Up to 5 percent of persons with chronic hepatitis C infections die, and it is the leading reason for liver transplants.

Hepatitis C is transmitted when the blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. Prior to 1992, being a blood transfusion recipient was a major risk factor for hepatitis C infection, but advances in blood screening has dramatically reduced new transmissions. Today, hepatitis C is primarily transmitted through sharing needles or other drug paraphernalia when injecting drugs, needlesticks or sharps exposures on the job, or, on rare occasions, from an infected mother to her baby during birth.

"Hepatitis C has been a hidden epidemic," Commissioner Daines said, "We need to start bringing hepatitis C out into the light of day and bring public health approaches to address this public health issue. The Council is a major step in this effort."

State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski (D-Rockland), whose father died as a result of complications related to hepatitis C, said, "This disease and those afflicted with it have been in the dark for too long. I am hopeful this advisory council and the $1.6 million in funding will lead to public awareness, scientific advancement and will help stall what is becoming an epidemic."

Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee (D-Suffern) said, "The loss of our dear and courageous colleague, Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, last February opened all of our eyes to the enemy that hepatitis C really is. For far too long, this terrible disease has gone unnoticed, but the impact it has on our communities and the families so tragically affected by it is enormous. The creation of the Hepatitis C Council and the Governor's proposed funding are welcomed and necessary support in the fight against this dreadful illness."

State Senator Thomas Morahan (R, C-Orange, Rockland) said, "I am pleased that Governor Spitzer has taken executive action to implement the recommendations of legislation introduced in the State Legislature by Assemblywoman Jaffee and myself, which sought to create a knowledgeable advisory council dedicated to assess the state's response to the high rate of hepatitis C, the deadly disease that lead to the passing of my friend and colleague Kenneth P. Zebrowski Sr."

Shari Foster, president of Status C Unknown, a provider of hepatitis C education and services in Medford; and a member of the Hepatitis C Advisory Council, said, "Today's announcement of a Hepatitis C Advisory Council is the culmination of over three years of work by advocates, state legislators and the Department of Health to bring more attention and resources to hepatitis C – a critical public health issue. We sincerely thank all those who worked to make the council a reality and look forward to continued collaboration."

The Hepatitis C Advisory Council, chaired by Commissioner Daines, will advise the state Health Department in the development and implementation of a comprehensive hepatitis C program, including prevention and education; surveillance; management and treatment; as well as screening, testing, counseling, and substance abuse treatment.

In addition to Dr. Daines and Ms. Foster, council members include:

  • Karen Carpenter-Palumbo, Commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services;
  • Brian R. Edlin, M.D., associate professor of medicine and public health at the Center for the Study of Hepatitis C, Weill Medical College of Cornell University;
  • Lorna Dove, M.D., MPH, associate medical director, Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation, New York-Presbyterian Hospital;
  • Samuel J. Daniel, M.D., FACP, FACG, President and CEO, North General Hospital;
  • David Bernstein, M.D., Chief, Digestive Disease Institute, North Shore University Hospital/Long Island Jewish Medical Center;
  • Eric Rude, MSW, coordinator of viral hepatitis services for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene;
  • Nancy Ortiz, MPH, assistant vice president for health services for VIP Community Services;
  • Tracy Swan, director of the coinfection project for Treatment Action Group;
  • Mari Yourdon, PHN, communicable disease nurse for the Broome County Health Department;
  • Hilda Morales, NP, HIV/HCV coinfection program coordinator at Montefiore Medical Center;
  • George Santana, community manager of CitiWide Harm Reduction in the Bronx;
  • Victor Martinez, educator at St. John's Riverside Hospital, from New Rochelle;
  • Mary Ellen Wilber, retiree, former coordinator of the Western New York viral hepatitis integration project funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection, from Batavia.