Division of General Internal Medicine

Dr. Matthew Akiyama Selected to Serve on Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force

Matthew AkiyamaMatthew Akiyama, MD, a clinician-investigator and assistant professor of Medicine in the divisions of General Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases, has been selected by Governor Andrew Cuomo to serve as a member of the newly-formed Hepatitis C Elimination Task Force that will advise the state on how to end the “silent” epidemic that effects an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers.

The creation of the 28-member Task Force is a promising step toward finalizing the state’s elimination plan to stop the spread of the virus by increasing access to medications that can cure hepatitis C and expanding programs to connect New Yorkers with prevention, screening and treatment services.

"The members selected for this task force are some of the finest in their fields, and their invaluable experience will provide us with the information we need to develop an attainable elimination plan," Governor Cuomo said. "This strategic plan will not only improve the quality of life for those living with Hepatitis C, but also ensure that New Yorkers have the support and resources they need to prevent this disease."

Hepatitis C—a liver disease caused by the hepatitis C virus—is spread by blood to blood contact, and most people are unaware they have it. The disease disproportionately affects hard to reach populations, such as people who inject drugs and individuals with justice-involvement. Left untreated, hepatitis C causes cirrhosis and liver failure, resulting in liver transplant, liver cancer or death.

The good news is that Hepatitis C is now an easily curable condition thanks to the availability of direct-acting antiviral (DAA) therapy.

“We are at an exciting moment where DAA prices are falling, so expanded access to therapy is feasible if we can reach the population that needs it,” said Dr. Akiyama, who conducts research focusing on HCV among socioeconomically marginalized populations with particular emphasis on the intersection of HCV in the criminal justice system.

The work of the Task Force will be supplemented by five workgroups: Prevention; Testing and Linkage to Care; Care and Treatment; Surveillance, Data and Metrics; and Social Determinants. Task Force and workgroup members include representatives from community-based organizations, people living with and affected by hepatitis C, health care providers, payers, public health experts, researchers, harm reduction specialists and social service providers.

New York State has committed to eliminate hepatitis C by increasing access to testing, treatment, and education in order to connect New Yorkers in high-risk communities with available services. It has allocated $5 million for hepatitis C services, such as education; patient navigation; care and treatment programs in harm reduction settings; removal of insurance barriers; expansion of hepatitis C treatment capacity; Medicaid reimbursement for harm reduction services; and the expansion of syringe exchange access.

Dr. Akiyama, an infectious disease and HIV primary care provider, is the recipient of a K99/R00 award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop and test an innovative strategy to improve linkage to and retention in HCV treatment among individuals recently released from jail. He is the recipient of additional institutional and NIH funding including an NIDDK P30 pilot grant focused on HCV Transmission Networks Among People Who Inject Drugs.

Matthew AkiyamaIn July, Dr. Akiyama and other Montefiore clinicians in the Departments of Medicine and Pathology partnered with the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to host the  2018 New York City Viral Hepatitis Research Symposium, “Equity in Prevention and Treatment.” The focus was on the urgent need to improve access to care and public awareness for the most vulnerable populations, including immigrants, people who inject drugs, incarcerated individuals, the homeless, and pregnant women.

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