NVHR joined our partners at NASTAD, Hepatitis B Foundation, and Hep B United to host a virtual Viral Hepatitis Policy Summit and Hill Day on February 17 & 18. The virtual event was an opportunity for advocates and federal partners to share information and engage in discussion about strategies and priorities at the federal level to eliminate viral hepatitis.
Over 100 advocates from around the country participated in the Viral Hepatitis Policy Summit, making it the largest one ever. The advocates heard from and engaged with CDC & HHS officials on a range of topics, including viral hepatitis elimination planning, health equity, strategies to expand hepatitis B & C testing and hepatitis A & B vaccination, the impact of COVID-19, scaling up comprehensive harm reduction and syringe services programs (SSPs) for people who inject drugs, and the importance of robust funding.
Several advocacy priorities surfaced during the summit. Advocates highlighted the importance of moving towards universal hepatitis B testing and vaccination; addressing Medicaid barriers and restrictions to treatment and access to care; advancing innovative viral hepatitis testing technologies; addressing stigma and discrimination; supporting people who use drugs; and maintaining a strong health equity lens in our goals and messaging.
Following the summit, advocates met with three dozen Congressional offices to educate staffers about viral hepatitis and describe challenges and opportunities in their local communities and states. Here are three key takeaways on effective advocacy meetings with Congressional staff:
- Local perspectives make a difference: While national figures and statistics are useful, Congressional offices are most interested in how an issue plays out in their districts and states. The information and anecdotes shared by advocates — whether patient experience, perspectives from clinics and service providers, or health department efforts and challenges — made our messages more concrete and relevant to staff.
- Find the intersection: Members of Congress and their offices have to be familiar with a broad range of issues, but tend to build their expertise and credibility on a handful of key themes and areas. Viral hepatitis isn’t just about infectious disease; our work connects to broader challenges around racial equity, reproductive health, immigration, drug policy and the overdose crisis, mass incarceration and criminal justice reform, and much more. Finding these areas of shared interest with a Congressional office elevates the relevance of viral hepatitis to their priorities.
- Passion makes a meeting memorable: While we strive to be professional in our meetings and communications with Congress, we sometimes risk coming off as dry and technical. Congressional staffers respond to advocates’ passion and personality, which fosters an emotional connection to our issues and messages. Keep it cordial, but don’t be afraid to let staffers know why you care.
The success of the Policy Summit & Hill Day reflects a growing and engaged base of advocates united in calling for greater funding and leadership for viral hepatitis elimination. But our efforts aren’t done! NVHR and our partners will be working in the next few weeks to develop a Dear Colleague letter that Members of Congress can sign onto in support of our funding requests, and relaunching the Congressional Hepatitis Caucus. You can take action any time by checking out the advocacy opportunities on our Take Action page.