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Merck announces the launch of Hope Against Hepatitis C, a company initiative to increase awareness, prevention and diagnosis of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Through the Hope Against Hepatitis C program, Merck will support a wide range of public education and patient support programs, as well as research efforts to help improve care for people living with chronic HCV infection.
Chronic HCV is a serious infection of the liver and many of those infected do not know that they have the virus approximately 60 to 80 percent of people infected with chronic HCV do not have symptoms. As a result, people who are undiagnosed may continue to unknowingly spread the virus to others. Chronic HCV infection can damage the liver over time and may lead to cirrhosis, end-stage liver disease and liver cancer.
"Winning the battle against viral hepatitis C requires improved public awareness and education to ensure that those at risk speak to their physicians about getting tested," says Patrick Bergstedt, senior vice president and general manager of infectious diseases in Global Human Health at Merck. "Merck is committed to supporting these efforts, which are critical to managing this serious public health issue."
The Hope Against Hepatitis C initiative will encompass a variety of public-private partnerships, educational programs and collaborative research efforts aimed at supporting the hepatitis C community.
Key initiatives of the program include Merck's participation in the CDC Foundation's Viral Hepatitis Action Coalition. As a member of the Coalition, Merck is providing support for key research and programs led by the Division of Viral Hepatitis at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) through grants to the CDC Foundation. Specifically, Merck is providing support for CDC's Birth-cohort Evaluation to Advance Screening and Testing for Hepatitis C (BEST-C) project. This two-year study will evaluate a birth-cohort-based approach of routine one-time screening for HCV infection of all persons born 1945-1965 to increase the proportion of people who are aware of their HCV status. Merck also is providing full funding through the CDC Foundation for a fellowship in CDC's Division of Viral Hepatitis to evaluate HCV testing practices and partial support for CDC's National Hepatitis Education Campaign targeted to health care providers, the general community, as well as populations at risk.
Merck is sponsoring the expansion of the American Liver Foundation's (ALF) Treatment Choices Initiative for individuals who have or are at high risk of chronic HCV infection. This initiative encompasses community-based education programs to inform participants about the liver, liver disease, specifically chronic HCV infection, and disease management strategies. The programs provide perspectives from healthcare providers, as well as individuals who are infected with chronic HCV. Program speakers and participants discuss available information and local resources.
Merck also has launched a new consumer education website, www.AllAboutHepC.com, to help inform patients about the risks associated with chronic HCV infection and to address common questions about the disease. The site is designed to provide content and resources in a user-friendly format that empowers patients to take action and start a conversation with their healthcare professionals. Among the useful features of the site is a risk factor questionnaire that patients can use to assess their risk for infection with chronic HCV. The site offers information on how chronic HCV can lead to serious health problems and helpful tips for patients to use in talking to a physician about chronic HCV infection. A list of questions is available for print-out so that users can take it to their doctors office for consultation.
"Merck's commitment in HCV spans three decades and extends beyond drug discovery and development," Bergstedt says. "We also are committed to partnering with the scientific community to advance the field, and to improving access to chronic hepatitis C care."