News & Events

Fighting a silent epidemic: the Hepatitis C Coalition

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
March 2006 Edition

As health professionals, you know the importance of access to reliable and quality services for addressing communicable diseases. We, at the Hepatitis C Coalition, are concerned with improving services for consumers with this often symptom-less liver disease.

The Massachusetts Hepatitis C coalition brings together providers and consumers to work to increase awareness of Hepatitis C and support programs through education, advocacy and coalition building. With the help of nurses such as you, the coalition can take a more powerful stance in protecting the commonwealth from this unnecessary and preventable illness.

Virus can ‘hide’ for up to 30 years
Because a person can live 10, 20 or even 30 years without knowing the hepatitis C virus is in their body, much damage can be done during that time and a person can transmit the disease to others. Due to insufficient harm reduction services and other factors, in 2004, 10,127 newly diagnosed cases of hepatitis C were reported to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. And with severe budget cuts to public health since 2003, services for infected people have sharply decreased.

The coalition knows the challenges we as a health-oriented organization face. But, together, we use our experiences as consumers and providers to increase the knowledge of hepatitis C within our communities and the legislature and use advocacy to fight for needed programs and services.

One of the coalition’s top advocacy efforts has been to support the Pharmacy Access Bill, H.1476. This bill will make it legal for pharmacists to sell syringes without a prescription. With increased access to clean syringes, the incidence of hepatitis C will decrease. This is certain as 80-90 percent of all IV drug users are infected with hepatitis C due to sharing dirty needles. The bill passed the House of Representatives and is now posed for a vote in the Senate. Please call your senator in support of this bill. To find out who your senator is visit

DPH funding for hepatitis C
We also are working full speed ahead in advocating for the hepatitis C line item (4513-1114) in the fiscal year 2007 state budget. A new fact sheet has been developed and we are scheduling meetings with legislators to share our stories and the importance of increasing funds for hepatitis C programs within the Department of Public Health. If you would like to meet with your own representative or senator to talk about hepatitis C funding, please contact Jenny Nathans at the coalition for materials and more information.

We also ask that you make a phone call to your state representative and senator and urge them to support funding the hepatitis C line item at $2,505,000 in FY07, and to convey their support to the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. In the current fiscal year, the line item is funded at $562,876 (down 80 percent since 2002), which has meant the demise of many services. The governor just released his budget recommendations for next fiscal year and he has kept funding at this same level. Without increased funding there can be little improvement to services. The coalition can send you fact sheets, which may be help when you talk to your representative.

The coalition also provides educational opportunities through guest speakers and evening events.

We welcome members of MNA to join the coalition and bring your own expertise to the advocacy arena. Advocacy can be as simple as making a phone call, writing a letter or attending a meeting. Membership is free and meetings are held monthly around the state. If you would like to join the coalition’s email list contact Jenny Nathans at 617.524.6696, x112 or at

Hepatitis C: A silent epidemic in Massachusetts

Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, viral illness that is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C may not show symptoms for many years. As a result, this infectious disease may be transmitted unknowingly. It impairs the liver by destroying liver cells and leads to cirrhosis, cancer and death. The liver is the largest human organ responsible for over 500 bodily functions such as digestion, metabolism, hormones and detoxification.

The problem
It is estimated that over 100,000 people in Massachusetts are living with hepatitis C. In 2004, 10,127 people were newly diagnosed, according to the Department of Public Health. Between 1994 and 2004, reported cases increased by 663 percent in the commonwealth.

In 2003, approximately 12,000 people in the United States died from HCV. The CDC projects that by the end of the decade hepatitis C will kill more people in the US than AIDS.

Funding for hepatitis C programs in the commonwealth has been cut by 80 percent since FY02, leading to unnecessary and preventable illness. In FY06, the funding level was $562,876 and in FY04 there was no separate line item for hepatitis C. It was nested within HIV. In FY07, the governor has level funded it at $562,876.

A Solution
Fund hepatitis C programs (state budget line item 4513-1114) at $2,505,000. Make it possible for the Department of Public Health to address hepatitis C aggressively through:

  • Increasing State Laboratory services that test for the presence and status of a disease in a patient.
  • Expanding counseling and testing services at community health centers for all hepatitis C patients.
  • Standardized educational and training efforts for health care and social service providers and the general public.
  • Quality, regional case management services for all infected people.
  • Improved surveillance of hepatitis C to assess state needs.
    How you can help
  • Commit to the Hepatitis C Coalition your support in funding hepatitis C programs at $2,505,000 in FY07.
  • Communicate this support and budget priority to Chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means, Rep. Robert DeLeo, State House, Room 243, Boston, MA 02133. 617.722.2990.


National data on hepatitis C

Groups at risk
Those who are infected with hepatitis C are often those least able to get adequate care:

  • 80-90 percent of intravenous drug users are infected
  • 15-30 percent of those infected with HIV
  • 22 percent of the homeless
  • 15 percent of those incarcerated
  • 7 percent of veterans
  • 3 percent of health care workers

Projected societal costs, 2010-2019

  • 193,100 hepatitis C-related deaths.
  • $10.7 billion in direct medical expenditures.
  • $21.3 and $54.2 billion in societal costs, respectively, from premature disability and mortality in people under 65 years of age.

*Sources: France Foundation Phoenix, 2005 and Mass. Dept. of Public Health

For more information, contact:

Jenny Nathans
617.524.6696, x112
Mass. Hepatitis C Coalition
c/o Massachusetts Public Health Assn.
434 Jamaicaway
Jamaica Plain, MA 02130