A statewide campaign to eliminate hepatitis C in Rhode Island will offer people free, confidential screenings at Waterfire this Saturday beginning at 6 p.m. on the College Street Bridge.
The screening is just one of the activities on tap as part of the “C is for Cure” WaterFire lighting. Saturday's event promotes the “RI Defeats Hep C” campaign.
“This brings attention to the issue. Treatments for Hep C are getting better and better and better. It’s really a lifestyle issue. If you’re a Baby Boomer, you should get tested,” says Dr. Lynn Taylor, who launched the campaign with the help of one of our $300,000 Rhode Island Innovation Fellowships.
An estimated 17,000 Rhode Islanders are infected with Hep C, according to Taylor, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Brown University and director of Miriam Hospital's HIV/Viral Hepatitis Co-infection Program. Baby Boomers are most at risk because they came of age before the causes of transmission were well known.
Early diagnosis enables people who are infected to receive treatment sooner rather than later, and prevent progression to more serious disease, such as cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.
“We call hepatitis C the silent epidemic. We don’t feel anything when we catch this infection. And then for many years we feel fine,” Taylor explains. “By the time we feel things it may be that we’re finding the disease in a very advanced form and we do see people frequently coming to the hospital bleeding, with cancer of liver, all these very late complications of hepatitis C that could have been prevented had we detected the illness in the stage where there were no symptoms. So it’s very wonderful that we get the word out that people can find out early on and get cured. Getting tested and cured are very beneficial because it lowers the chance that you’ll develop any of these things.”
Taylor says the cure rate can potentially be 100 percent. The key to achieving that cure rate in Rhode Island is to scale up the delivery system. Taylor’s campaign is a comprehensive plan that includes increasing awareness, rapid testing, linkage to care, building infrastructure for a sustainable model and evaluation.
“At no other time in history have we had such opportunity to eradicate this harmful, costly epidemic,” says Taylor. “Rhode Island has the optimal size epidemiologically, cooperation between stakeholders, scientific acumen and medical establishments that make it possible to be the first state to defeat HCV.”
Our Rhode Island Innovation Fellowships are made possible through the generosity and vision of philanthropists Letitia and John Carter. We annually award two recipients up to $300,000 over three years to develop, test and implement innovative ideas that have the potential to dramatically improve any area of life in Rhode Island.
The Rhode Island Foundation is the largest and most comprehensive funder of nonprofit organizations in Rhode Island. In 2013, the Foundation made grants of more than $31 million to organizations addressing the state’s most pressing issues and needs of diverse communities. Through leadership, fundraising and grantmaking activities, often in partnership with individuals and organizations, the Foundation is helping Rhode Island reach its true potential. For more information, visit www.rifoundation.org.