Hepatitis C affects as many as four million people in the United States, making it the leading blood-borne illness in the country — but up to 75 percent of people are unaware that they are infected. Among several factors, the stigmatization of this largely asymptomatic liver infection plays a key role in preventing people from being screened and treated for the disease.
Ms. Danielle McPeak, a second-year Master of Public Health student at the Boston University School of Public Health, recently completed her practicum, which enabled her to gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which stigma and discrimination impact the level of health care and support that Bay State residents living with hepatitis C receive.
Through the Boston-based nonprofit Victory Programs, Ms. McPeak served as an intern with the EndHepCMA Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations working to eliminate the chronic infection throughout the Commonwealth. She researched national trends on hepatitis C, and conducted focus groups with impacted individuals at community and harm reduction centers across Massachusetts, to determine how providers, employers, and communities can reduce the stigma around hepatitis C and encourage people to receive testing and curable medication.
“The CDC has reported that there are 35,000 people living with hep C in Massachusetts, but our state’s own epidemiology research shows that that number is actually closer to 250,000,” says Ms. McPeak, noting that hepatitis C is deadlier than the next 12 infectious diseases combined, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), the flu, and tuberculosis. “Massachusetts is doing more than other states to combat hepatitis C, but no state is doing enough,” she says.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on January 17