For Immediate Release

Feb. 24, 2021


John Lyon
Strategic Communications Manager


LITTLE ROCK ― Adding hepatitis C screening for pregnant women in Arkansas would reduce child deaths from that disease, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement said Wednesday.

With state policy on hepatitis C screenings a topic of discussion in the current legislative session, ACHI noted that in 2019 its Health Policy Board adopted a statement in support of efforts to promote screening, prevention and education related to infectious diseases including hepatitis C.

“The ACHI Health Policy Board’s position is that to decrease the incidence and prevalence of infectious diseases in Arkansas, the state should implement efforts to promote screening, prevention and education, ensure the availability and accessibility of comprehensive treatment options to those with infections without regard to current or former drug use, and expand coverage options and reimbursement for medically necessary treatment consistent with evidence-based guidelines,” the board’s 2019 statement read in part.

Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, and spread through contact with blood from an infected person. In 2018, hepatitis C was listed as an underlying or contributing cause in the deaths of 15,713 people in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control Prevention.

There is no hepatitis C vaccine, but the infection is usually curable through medication. However, about half of people infected with HCV experience no symptoms, which can take decades to appear. A pregnant woman may be infected and unaware that she is transmitting the virus to her unborn child.

The prevalence of hepatitis C among pregnant women in the U.S. has been increasing at an alarming rate. Between 2009 and 2014, HCV infection rates in pregnant women nearly doubled, increasing from 1.8 per 1,000 births to 3.4 per 1,000 births, according to the CDC.

In Arkansas, the CDC estimated that in 2014 the rate of hepatitis C infection among pregnant women was between 2.6 per 1,000 births and 5 per 1,000 births. There were about 36,000 births in Arkansas in 2019, so as many as 180 of those children could have been born to mothers with hepatitis C.

A 2020 CDC study found that universal screening for HCV in pregnancy ― as opposed to screening only pregnant women known to be at risk ― would reduce HCV-attributable deaths by 16% among women who receive curative treatment following a positive test result. The agency also found that universal screening would lead to more HCV-exposed babies being identified and receiving curative treatment. The percentage of exposed babies identified could increase to 92%, up from the current percentage of just 44%. Based in part on those findings, the CDC issued new guidelines in 2020 recommending universal screening for HCV in pregnancy.

“Screening all pregnant women for hepatitis C screenings as part of routine treatment in Arkansas is a no-brainer,” said ACHI President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. “The increasing rate of hepatitis C in pregnant women shows the need for it, there is scientific evidence showing it would be effective, and it would bring Arkansas in line with the CDC’s recommendations. Most importantly, this is a policy decision that would save countless Arkansas children’s lives.”

ACHI is a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy, and collaborative program development. Its Health Policy Board, consisting of 21 voting members and two ex-officio members, is an independent, self-perpetuating board that guides ACHI’s involvement in and positions on specific policy matters.

The board members are:

  • Jerry Adams, President & CEO, Arkansas Research Alliance
  • Chris Barber, President & CEO, St. Bernards Healthcare
  • Lawrence “Larry” Braden, MD, Family Medicine, Ouachita Valley Family Clinic
  • Sandra J. Brown, MPH, MSN, RN, CEO, Jefferson Comprehensive Care System, Inc.
  • Rick Elumbaugh, Mayor, City of Batesville
  • Joe Fox, MBA, President, CBI Investments
  • Stephanie Gardner, PharmD, EdD Senior Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Provost, UAMS Academic Affairs
  • Ray Hanley, President & CEO, Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care
  • Don Hollingsworth, JD, Retired Executive Director, Arkansas Bar Association
  • Andrew Kumpuris, MD (Vice Chair), Cardiologist, CHI St. Vincent Heart Clinic Arkansas
  • Marquita Little Numan, Leadership Officer, Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
  • Jayme Mayo, PA-C, Wellness Director, Nabholz
  • Eddie Ochoa, MD, Associate Professor, Arkansas Children’s Hospital
  • Marcus Osborne, Senior Vice President, Walmart
  • James “Skip” Rutherford III, Dean, UA, Clinton School of Public Service
  • Herb Sanderson, State Director, AARP Arkansas
  • Richard Smith, MD, Marie Wilson Howells Professor and Chair, Department of, Psychiatry, College of Medicine, Director, UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute
  • S. “Sandy” Stroope, Executive Director, Arkansas Motor Vehicle Commission
  • Joe Thompson, MD, MPH (Ex-Officio), President & CEO, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement
  • Annabelle Imber Tuck, JD (Chair), Public Service Fellow & Jurist-in-Residence, William H. Bowen School of Law, Retired Justice, Arkansas Supreme Court
  • Susan Ward-Jones, MD, CEO, East Arkansas Family Health Center, Inc.
  • Mark Williams, PhD (Ex-Officio), Dean, UAMS, College of Public Health
  • Namvar Zohoori, MD, MPH, PhD, Deputy State Health Officer, and Chief Science Officer, Arkansas Department of Health