Hepatitis C in Native American Populations

HEAL Blog is the recipient of the ADAP Advocacy Association’s 2015-2016 ADAP Social Media Campaign of the Year Award
By: Marcus J. Hopkins, Blogger

In August 2017, HEAL Blog covered efforts by the Cherokee Nation to proactively combat Hepatitis C (HCV) within the tribe’s boundaries in Northeastern Oklahoma (Hopkins, 2017). The program, started three years ago, comprised several steps, including compulsory screening of all tribe members aged 20-69, expanding screening locations to include dental clinics, establishing a Syringe Services Program (SSP) within the tribe’s borders, and using Direct-Acting Antivirals (DAAs) to treat those infected with HCV. The tribe, itself, is absorbing the costs of treating its citizens (Juozapavicius, 2018).

Photo Source: HHS

Map of Cherokee Nation

According to the most recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths related to HCV have been decreasing in every demographic since 2013, including in Native American (NA) populations. That said, NAs still had the highest rate of HCV-related death in 2016, with a rate of 10.75 (per 100,000), down from a staggering 12.95 in 2015 (CDC, 2018). These data indicate that, while the effort by the Cherokee Nation are certainly proving to be effective, there is still a lot of ground to cover.

As with other race demographics, the leading risk for HCV infection is Injection Drug Use (IDU). Doctor Jorge Mira, Director of Infectious Diseases for the Cherokee Nation, indicates in the Juozapavicius article that, over the past two years, he began hearing the word “heroin” more and more, every day. This trend of IDU is in line with other race demographics. The common factors across race demographics are high levels poverty and unemployment. In areas where these factors are present (particularly in rural settings), heroin use and IDU are almost a given.

The efforts to combat the disease within the Cherokee Nation need to be replicated at the state and Federal levels. The reality is that these problems are not going to go away, and in the areas where they’re most prevalent, they are going to get exponentially worse in the coming years. In the meantime, we can look to the Cherokee Nation for their leadership on the issue, and begin implementing them in small scale at the local level.



Disclaimer: HEAL Blogs do not necessarily reflect the views of the Community Access National Network (CANN), but rather they provide a neutral platform whereby the author serves to promote open, honest discussion about Hepatitis-related issues and updates. Please note that the content of some of the HEAL Blogs might be graphic due to the nature of the issues being addressed in it.


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