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Rep. Seeking GAO Probe of Hepatitis C
June 21, 2003

Rep. Jackson Lee Praised for Seeking GAO Probe of Hepatitis C

A grass roots Hepatitis C advocacy group is praising United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, for seeking a General Accounting Office investigation of the deadly Hepatitis C virus in the United States.

Hepatitis C is now four times more prevalent than HIV/AIDS and has infected up to 5 million Americans. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 12,000 Americans will die this year from complications of the blood borne virus. HCV is the major reason for liver transplants in the United States.

Jackson Lee asked Comptroller General David Walker for a General Accounting Office investigation of the virus in a June 18 letter.  She sought the investigation after weeks of consultation with leaders of the Hepatitis C Movement for Awareness (HMA), a nationwide organization of grass roots HCV activists.

"HCV patients have much to celebrate today," said Tricia Lupole, national coordinator for HMA, "For the first time, HCV will be looked at as a whole disease.  Nothing could prove more beneficial to HCV patients.  We cannot thank Congresswoman Jackson Lee and her staff for seeing the needs of the HCV community."

Lupole says she hopes the investigation will help answer several questions concerning Hepatitis C, especially whether it is a sexually transmitted disease.

The National bill S-1143 is sponsored by Texas Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Massachusetts Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy.

Among other things, Lee is asking the GAO to determine whether Hepatitis C is actually a sexually transmitted disease.  She is also asking the investigative arm of congress to look into the high rate of infection among prison inmates.

Prisons were declared in "epidemic status" since the sixties.  "Prisons, juvenal detention home and mental hospitals contribute significantly to the spread of HCV", Lupole continues; "If we want to stop the spread this virus, we must stop the spread of HCV in these institutions.  Or, at the very least, tell the people they have the infection before they are released."

Ed Wendt, the Texas coordinator for HMA and a liver transplant recipient, says HMA also wants language in S-1143 to require "annual audits and strict background checks" of groups and organizations, especially 501c3 tax exempt groups, that receive grants and funding from the Act.

"I hope the GAO report will help congress adopt the necessary amendments to S-1143 so it will be acceptable," Wendt says. "Representative Lee's letter speaks for itself."

Lupole called Jackson Lee's letter to the Comptroller General "a truly great day for the 5 million Americans suffering from this disease."  She said it should help veterans who contracted the virus while on active duty, get "badly needed service connected disability payments."

Said Lupole: "For the first time, issues concerning veterans and HCV infections will be addressed.  The Veterans Administration deny accountability for the 10+% of veterans infected based on the CDC statement that war is not a risk factor for HCV.  Hopefully the GAO will dig deep and see how infected veterans are and the numerous transmission methods that existed before universal precautions were in place."

Excerpt from Jackson Lees letter to the Comptroller General.

In order to design an appropriate strategy for stopping the spread of HCV, we in Congress will need accurate and reliable information about this insidious virus, and its impact on American society.  I understand that there is considerable controversy and confusion even in the HCV field, regarding how the virus is spread, and how best to stop it from spreading further.  It also seems that certain populations, such as Veterans, the incarcerated, and minorities, may be being disproportionately hit by this virus, or missed by public health efforts.  This suggests that in the future, we may need to tailor public health policies to specifically target these at risk populations.  Again, addressing these issues properly will depend on accurate and reliable data.

Please prepare a GAO report on HCV in the United States, including:

" The history of HCV in the United States;
" The prevalence of HCV in the general population today;
" Populations that have been impacted disproportionately, including the incarcerated;
" Recommendations for improving diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of such populations and others;
" How the virus is spread, including whether HCV should be considered as a sexually transmitted disease;
" Whether it is appropriate to group HCV with HIV for research, prevention, and treatment purposes;
" The extent to which those at risk for infection through receiving contaminated blood products in the past have been identified and notified;
" Whether HCV infection should be considered a service-connected disability for Veterans;
" Diseases associated with or exacerbated by HCV infection;
" Appropriate methods and timing for HCV treatment;
" Best practices for education and prevention programs;
" The adequacy of federal programs-including those at the Centers for Disease Control, the Bureau of Prisons, the National Institutes of Health, and the Veterans Administration-for addressing the HCV epidemic.

Lupole adds, "Our goal is to stop the spread of HCV." Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee and her colleagues understand that.

For more information contact:
Hepatitis C Movement for Awareness
110 Glover Circle
Staunton, VA 24401
540 248 4994

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