The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) joined advocates to promote the importance of Hepatitis testing and syringe exchange programs throughout the commonwealth on Tuesday, June 7. To date, 166 organizations have signed on to support the additional safety and prevention measures.
“Viral hepatitis is significantly reduced by having access to syringe service programs,” Dr. Wendy Braund, DOH Deputy Secretary of Health Preparedness and Community Protection said during the awareness event news conference in the Capitol building. “The success of existing programs is evidence that residents across the state can help stop the spread of viral hepatitis if more syringe service programs are available.”
“According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individuals who participate in syringe service programs are five times more likely to enter drug treatment,” Dr. Braund said, noting that DOH leaders were in Bethlehem and Pittsburgh last week to discuss syringe services with elected officials and members of the local heroin and opioid task forces who are eager to provide this service to residents in their region.”
“One of the best tools that we can give people looking for recovery is the tool of connection with others,” said Dr. Braund. “By combining awareness, compassion and syringe services – we can get more people into recovery and away from a life of addiction and the complications that come with it.”
In partnership with the Pennsylvania Viral Hepatitis Eliminating Planning Committee and the Viral Hepatitis Interagency Workgroup, the DOH created the Pennsylvania viral hepatitis elimination plan. The plan intends to:
- Create and enhance prevention and education initiatives
- Expand the availability of co-located viral hepatitis and harm reduction services and programs across the state
- Increase testing and linkage to care and treatment
- Continue surveillance of those diagnosed with Hepatitis B and C
“Forty percent of Pennsylvanians living with Hepatitis C are unaware of their infection,” Dr. Stacey Trooskin, Chief Medical Officer of Philadelphia FIGHT said. “We can eliminate Hepatitis C from Pennsylvania but we must scale up testing, access to curative treatment and harm reduction services like syringe service programs as evidenced by the success we’ve seen in Philadelphia.”
“Without syringe service programs, there is a good chance that I would not be standing here speaking with you today,” said Kate Favata, Community Relations Liaison for Clean Slate Recovery Centers. “I am proof that not only do these programs work, but they help people lead impactful and full lives. “Some people who need these programs are currently not able to access them, and that needs to change.”
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