Monday, February 15, 2016

CHEROKEE NATION - War on Hepatitis-C

"How the Cherokee Nation plans to reverse the ‘silent epidemic’ of Hepatitis C" by Stephen Fee and Mori Rothman, PBS NewsHour 2/12/2016

In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has waged war against Hepatitis C.

With infection rates among Cherokee Indians nearly five times higher than other racial or ethnic groups in the U.S., the group has become the first community in the country and one of only a few in the world to set a goal of completely eliminating the virus from its population.

The virus, which is most commonly transmitted through the sharing of needles, can lead to liver damage, cancer and even death.

That’s why Cherokee Nation officials began working with the University of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Health department and federal health officials to launch an initiative to tackle Hep C by boosting screening efforts and using the latest pharmaceutical research.

Because the federal government is responsible for providing health care to all American Indians, more members of the Cherokee Nation and other native groups pass through tribal hospitals and outreach clinics.

Dr. Jorge Mera, Director of Infectious Diseases for the Cherokee Nation, says that makes it easier to screen nearly everyone for hepatitis C, a cornerstone of the project.

“Most of our patients will come in through the system at some point,” Mera said.  “We will be able to screen them, and once we screen them and detect that they’re positive, engage them in care and hopefully treat them and cure them.”

One distinction being made is testing of all patients over age 20, a departure from the former strategy of singling out patients who had a history of intravenous drug use.

“We’re not doing screening based on risk factors, first because we know it doesn’t work well,” Mera said.  “Many providers will not ask risk factors with patients.  They don’t have the time to do it or it is a sensitive issue.”

Mera said he hopes the partnership will lead to discoveries that will be useful nationwide.

“We won’t be able to extrapolate what we do or find to every medical scenario in the United States, but I think everybody will learn a little bit from some of the things we did.”

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