July 28 is World Hepatitis Day, and this year’s theme is “Hepatitis Can’t Wait.” This theme was chosen by the World Hepatitis Alliance because testing, vaccination, and treatment for hepatitis can’t wait, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In South Carolina, hepatitis continues to be a major health burden on many in our communities. Chronic hepatitis B and C can lead to liver disease, cancer and death if untreated. Hepatitis A, while usually a mild illness, has caused increased hospitalizations during the ongoing outbreak in South Carolina that began in 2018.
In 2019, 527 cases of chronic hepatitis B and 7,022 cases of chronic hepatitis C were diagnosed in South Carolina. Additionally, 2,000 hepatitis A cases have been identified since the outbreak began in November 2018.
The best way to prevent viral hepatitis infection and liver damage is to be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B and to be screened for hepatitis C. People diagnosed with hepatitis C can be cured of the infection, and the risk of further liver damage can be reduced.
Hepatitis can’t wait, and we can all do our part to reduce the burden of hepatitis in our communities.
To learn more about hepatitis, please click here. To find hepatitis, STD and HIV services in your areas, please click here.
An important aspect of the COVID-19 response has been making sure that emergency messaging reaches as many South Carolinians as possible. In recognition of the Americans With Disabilities Act anniversary this week, we wanted to highlight how DHEC and partners made sure this messaging reached the deaf and hard of hearing living in and visiting our state.
Throughout the response, DHEC has worked with our partners, including the South Carolina Emergency Management Division (SCEMD), to assure that important information is accessible to those with hearing disabilities through American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters and closed captioning.
SCEMD and DHEC worked to make sure that ASL interpreters were on-camera for Gov. Henry McMaster’s press conferences and COVID-19 updates, broadcast live throughout the state and on South Carolina ETV through the pandemic.
One of these interpreters, Josie McDaniel-Burkett, also worked with DHEC on a series of public service announcements completely in ASL, following the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines. McDaniel-Burkett is the Director of Interpreting Services at South Carolina Interpreting Services for the Deaf, who provides ASL support throughout major emergencies that occur in our state – including public health and natural disasters.
DHEC has also put special effort into transcribing closed captions for all our public service announcements and videos posted to YouTube and other social media platforms. The COVID-19 media briefings are also captioned, using automatic captioning software through Facebook and YouTube. We have also worked within the agency to offer Spanish closed captioning on our Spanish language PSAs.
Long-term care facility residents and staff have represented about 40% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States. At the same time, the year-long visitation restrictions also took a tremendous toll on residents, family members, caregivers, and facility staff, especially with residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia.
“Ongoing changes and restrictions related to COVID-19 impacted our most vulnerable population,” said JoMonica Taylor, Director of Residential Facilities Division in the Bureau of Community Care. “Amidst staffing shortages, increase in infection rates and lockdowns, facility’s staff remained a physical, emotional, and spiritual support to the residents, especially those with Alzheimer’s and dementia.”
DHEC worked with facilities over the past year to combat the spread of COVID-19 and find ways that facilities could still offer a connection between residents and loved ones, including tablets and other telecommunications, window visits, and isolation barrier visits.
Long-term care facilities in South Carolina are now required to allow visitation at all times for all residents in accordance with DHEC guidelines, including indoor visits, outdoor visits, compassionate care visits, and window visits. With long-term care facilities reopened and widespread vaccine availability, DHEC leaders that oversee these facilities express their appreciation to facility staff.
“DHEC would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to the facilities and their staff for their commitment to taking care of and keeping safe one of our most precious populations during this past year of uncertainty and change,” said Angie Smith, Director of the Bureau of Community Care. “DHEC stands along with the facilities and their staff and their commitment to the health, safety, and wellbeing of the Alzheimer’s and Dementia population.”
As a reminder, DHEC continues to help administer CMS’s Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) Reinvestment Program, which supports projects that benefit nursing home residents and improve their quality of life. Many of the projects are designed to help alleviate and comfort residents suffering with dementia.
More information on the program and how entities can apply for funds to support an eligible project are available on DHEC’s website here.
June is Pride Month, and June 27 is Pride Day. These are opportunities to celebrate achievements by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and acknowledge challenges these individuals may face when it comes to public health and environmental justice.
“Pride month, and Pride celebrations in general, are a vital part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” said Billy Wiggins, Director of Clinical Services for the DHEC Public Health Bureau of Community Health Services, and a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. “Celebrations, such as Pride, provide important moments of visibility and understanding. In honor of Pride Month, people are encouraged to take some time to learn more about the challenges, accomplishments, and diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community.”
LGBTQIA+ community stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual.
Pride celebrations started as protests dating back to the Stonewall riots in June 1969 New York City (NYC). In 2016 the Stonewall site in NYC was declared a national monument.
To recognize the meaningful impact that our LGBTQIA+ community has had in the fields of environmental protection and public health, we’ve spotlighted several notable public figures who have and/or are making a difference in our communities.
“For almost 15 years DHEC’s STD/HIV and viral hepatitis division has partnered with SC Pride to offer outreach and testing services during the annual Pride festival,” saidTony Price, Prevention Program Manager of that Division. “DHEC has provided free testing for HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis C. At some of the events, DHEC has also provided vaccines for hepatitis A/B and influenza. The division has enjoyed a strong partnership with SC Pride, its leadership, and participants in the past. We look forward to continuing our efforts to support the LGBTQIA+ community with our health promotion and outreach programs.”
Two notable public health figures who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community are Michael J. Kaplan and Dr. Rachel Levine.
Kaplan is currently the President and CEO of Melanoma Research Alliance, and before that he was President and CEO of Washington, DC-based AIDS United. During his 25 years of executive non-profit and public health leadership experience, Kaplan has proven to be a supporter of health research and policy, mainly in the area of serving people living with HIV/AIDS in the LGBTQIA+ community.
Levine became the first openly transgender federal official in a Senate-confirmed role earlier this year when she was named Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. She has served as: Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health; Pennsylvania’s Physician General; Vice-Chair for Clinical Affairs for the Department of Pediatrics; and Chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. In addition to her recent posts in medicine and government, Dr. Levine is an accomplished speaker and author of numerous publications on the opioid crisis, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBT medicine.
As for public health challenges, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are five times as likely as their heterosexual counterparts to attempt suicide, and 40 percent of transgender adults report having attempted suicide. According to a 2017 study from the University of Chicago, “Missed Opportunities: Youth Homelessness in America.” LGBT youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness compared to their heterosexual counterparts, according to the CDC. More information on LGBTQIA+ health is available on the CDC’s website.
DHEC uses the definition created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to define Environmental Justice (EJ) “as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Our agency’s five EJ principles are:
Ensure that Environmental Justice Communities are Routinely Considered Throughout Decision-Making Processes.
Proactively Build and Strengthen Relationships with Communities by Sharing Information, Providing Technical Assistance, and Identifying Resources.
Proactively Promote Partnerships Between Communities and Other Stakeholders.
Encourage and Facilitate Capacity Building and Collaborative Problem Solving Within Environmental Justice Communities.
Strengthen Our Agency’s Leadership with the Goal of Sustaining Environmental Justice within SC DHEC.
You can learn more about EJ by clicking here. A few members of LGBTQIA+ community that are notable for their contributions to the environment are:
Rachel Carson was an American marine biologist, author, and conservationist whose influential book “Silent Spring” and other writings are credited with advancing the global environmental movement. “Silent Spring” was met with fierce opposition by chemical companies, but it spurred a reversal in national pesticide policy, which led to a nationwide ban on DDT and other pesticides. It also inspired a grassroots environmental movement that led to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Carson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter.
Mahri Monson, an Environmental Protection Specialist for the EPA, describes her work as “enforcing U.S. environmental laws, addressing serious pollution problems to protect communities and the environment.” A proponent of green infrastructure, Monson’s work strategizes storm management and mitigates sewer overflows, providing environmental and social benefits for communities throughout the country. Monson also worked alongside co-workers to create a policy concerning transgender and gender nonconforming EPA employees, including a guide to transitioning at the EPA and prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity.
On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers landed in Galveston, Texas, where they shared the news that the Civil War had ended and the enslaved were now free. The Emancipation Proclamation had officially ended slavery in the states fighting against the Union on January 1, 1863, but it only took effect when Union forces took control of an area. Of note, the first area it took effect was Beaufort and surrounding islands, since the Union already held this area.
Galveston and the surrounding area of Texas was the last area to fall to Union forces, so June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth) marks the end of slavery in the South. This event led to Juneteenth as the nationally celebrated remembrance of the ending of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth is a holiday that has many meanings for the community, and DHEC’s Public Health Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and Deputy Area of Environmental Affairs are recognizing the important role African Americans have had and continue to have in the fields of environmental protection and public health. This includes, here at home in South Carolina.
At DHEC, we are committed to building upon our agency’s existing internal structures and community relationships as well as creating new ones to enhance health equity in South Carolina and better reach our vulnerable communities. While work is ongoing, we recognize that we all must continue to take actions to proactively address long-standing equity gaps and reduce disparities.
Many today celebrate this holiday by having educational programs and fellowshipping with family and friends. Some communities also raise the Juneteenth flag, which highlights this day’s connection to Texas, African Americans, and the reminder that those that were enslaved, and their descendants, were and are Americans.